I've been meaning to write about the American Transcription Association (ATA) since the Advance editorial, Inshoring jobs for MTs – and then again when For the Record published their article, Transcription group opposes offshoring.
Life kind of intervened – and it was summer and hot and I really didn't feel like saying much about anything.
Well, the weather has cooled down (for now) and I'm catching up.
I like the ATA's enthusiasm but I'm kind of confused about their direction and plan of action. (Then again, I'm not privy to it and I'm sure the web site only scratches the surface.) On the other hand, Donna Littrell, founder of the organization, seems to have put a lot of thought into it and more organization than I've seen in past efforts to start a new trade organization.
Until I went and re-reviewed the web site as research for writing about them, I didn't realize they were including VAs (virtual assistants) and other types of transcription services. I understand that overseas competition is a concern for those people, as well. I understand that including them in the scope of what the ATA hopes to accomplish boosts the membership and vendor base. I am concerned, however, that it will blur the focus of the organization.
The medical transcription industry has been difficult to get a grasp on; even industry experts are only able to roughly estimate the number of medical transcriptionists in the U.S., the number of lines generated, the amount of revenue generated annually by the industry. On top of that, no one company has ever been able to capture more than a very small share of the estimated total industry. Part of the reason for this is because it's largely a fragmented industry with a large number of mom-and-pop businesses and independent MTs, many of which are invisible in the industry – they don't join organizations, they don't go to meetings and if they are in the forums that attracted MTs, they stay pretty silent (but many of them aren't even there).
If MT is still fragmented after all the consolidation that's gone on the last 10+ years, the general transcription and VA industries are even more fragmented. And – because there's absolutely no way of knowing how many potential customers there are for those services and approximately how much business they might generate in a year, it's just impossible to even guess an estimate of either the amount of revenue generated in those industries or the number of people who might be engaged in working in those industries. When I put up Transcription Registry, I thought I had a fairly good grasp of what kind of transcription services were being offered. And yet – some of the specialty areas surprised me. (For example – I had no idea people recorded church sermons and had them transcribed!)
That's all great – but does including such a diverse and fragmented (and potentially huge) group distort ATA's focus? One of my criticisms of the old AAMT was that they tried to be all things to all MTs. The association was originally started by acute care MTs. I think AAMT would have gone a lot further than it ever did if they had just focused on that segment of the medical transcription market. I have to wonder if ATA is headed down that same road when they include such a diverse group unless they develop a really good, really concrete plan for handling it; i.e., dividing into sections and putting someone with a lot of experience in the section industry in charge of it.
The education and training requirements for entry into the medical transcription industry are also much different from those of the other industries. Are board members and general members who aren't involved in the medical transcription industry going to want to spend the time and money needed to address issues regarding medical transcription education, training, job placement and credentialing? There are also going to be issues that arise from leaning heavily on the privacy and security issues of overseas transcription. There's a lot of work being done by VAs and general transcriptionists that doesn't involve anything that exposes privacy or security. There's also a question of whether or not HITECH will take care of these issues in the medical transcription industry – I spoke with an attorney at TEPR prior to HITECH being passed – he told me if it passed, he would advise his MTSO clients not to use overseas contractors at all because the exposure is too great. (HITECH is another topic altogether or I'd get into it.) I'm not sure if privacy and security issues are much of a plank, much less enough to build a platform – and it's especially weak when diluted by other types of transcription that don't deal with these issues at all.
I vehemently disagree with the organization's assertion that there are enough medical transcriptionists in the U.S. to meet the requirements. There's absolutely no evidence to support this. There may be enough people in the U.S. who want to be MTs, or who would be MTs if the money was better – but if all work overseas was pulled back into the U.S. tomorrow, I don't think there would be enough MTs to get the work done, even if they all worked 24/7.
In For the Record, Transcription group opposes offshoring, Scott Faulkner made some comments about the focus of the group being shortsighted. I agree with Scott on the issue that globalization is an irreversible component of our modern world. I disagree that ATA is implying that one group of workers is inherently more skilled, more responsible and therefore ultimately superior to another group of workers. I am going to guess that in the former reference, he means U.S. MTs and in the latter, he means overseas MTs. I don't get that message from the ATA and there's certainly a precedence in business for promoting domestic services and workers. There are overseas trade organizations for MTs that US workers can't join – why not a US trade organization? Someone explain to me why it's okay to have a trade organization for medical transcription in India or Pakistan or New Zealand or the Philippines – but not the US.
I encourage transcriptionists of all kinds to check it out, at least. It's always exciting to see a new group that's passionate about a cause and it'll be interesting to see how the ATA progresses and where it goes. See below for how to find them.
For my own part, I'd like to see ATA leadership be a little more transparent. Bios of the Board members would be a nice start, as well as a statement of the legal status of the organization. I hope they continue standing on higher ground when it comes to other organizations, credentials, policies, etc. For the ATA to be successful, they have to send a positive message and build a solid platform that promotes the benefits of a domestic work force.
- American Transcription Association web site
- American Transcription Association on Facebook
- American Transcription Association on Twitter