There's a cautionary tale inside the hype of medical transcription as a career and that is that there are a lot of scams. There are scam schools and there are scam jobs.
Let's focus on another shady area of transcription: the “certified medical transcriptionist.” I'm going out on a limb and expressing my opinion that any organization, other than AHDI, that claims it awards a “certified medical transcriptionist” or “CMT” designation or “credential” that is recognized in the industry is a scam. And I find this practice so reprehensible that I'm going to name names.
This is a real-life story about how these scams and substandard programs affect individuals. I've also used her real information, with her permission – she's made no effort to hide who she is online and a search will bring up several of the complaints she's filed in the online media.
Disclaimer on my research
It's difficult (but obviously not impossible) to find out what a web site used to look like. I've included what I feel are pertinent screen shots of the old web sites for the companies I'm discussing, but there are gaps and I can only piece things together based on the information I'm able to obtain in the internet archives. I'm not going to claim that I have all the information – but I think I have enough of it to support the conclusions.
TechSkills owns the three top domain name extensions for their site: dot-org, dot-edu and dot-com. All the sites are identical, both currently and in the archives, and versions in the internet archives have the same logo and contact information
If you're having trouble seeing the screen shots, click on them for the full-size version.
Like everything else on my blog, these are my opinions unless otherwise stated and referenced.
The School: TechSkills
Cathy thought she did her homework. She investigated medical transcription and medical transcription education. She chose TechSkills, a vocational school with multiple programs and locations in multiple states.
The state in which Cathy resides lists TechSkills as an approved school offering medical transcription education. There are only 4 schools on their list: Kaplan University, At-Home Professions, Rasmussen College and TechSkills. For those of us who've been in the industry for awhile, that list says about all there needs to be said about the value of the state approval. It should also provide a precaution for those beginning their search: state approval of a program can be pretty meaningless. In this particular instance, all it means is the school is approved to operate in the state. The state site makes it clear that approval and accreditation are two different things, and what they do is provide approval. TechSkills is an approved school, not an accredited school. Approved schools undergo the following process:
…staff evaluates program and teaching location applications, advertising, enrollment and school catalog documents, refund policies and financial statements. Approval is granted after a school has submitted all required information and forms and the school is in compliance with state law.
The state establishes a standard and makes every effort to ensure that a school meets the standard. They respond to complaints. They are also supposed to monitor a school's success rate; i.e., whether students are graduating and getting jobs. This all kind of begs the question: who is watching the watchers?
Cathy also checked out the TechSkills web site and information provided there. In January of 2005, this is what the TechSkills web site said about their medical transcription program (ignore the “Careerstep” on this site – it's what they call one of their programs and has nothing to do with the transcription school by the same name):
The program also prepares our Students for the Certified Medical Transcriptionist exam, which enables them to earn a widely recognized industry certification.
They don't say who performs this certification, but as Cathy found out – it wasn't AHDI. I'm going to put that part of the story on hold for a minute, however, so we can finish up with TechSkills and move on to the organization that was administering the referenced certification.
The reference to the certification appeared some between January 2004, when the site looked like the screen shot below, and January 2005 (screen shot above).
You note there's no reference to a certification of any kind; however, one difference I am noticing is this one:
…with access to a professionally-certified instructor in person, via telephone or electronically.
I can't find any information at the current TechSkills site about their instructors, including what professional certifications they might have. In fact, Cathy tells me that the instructor at the time she took the course was a recent graduate with no medical transcription experience. Am I being too cynical if I wonder why they aren't terribly forthcoming with this information?
Fast forward to December 2007. Somewhere in this time frame, TechSkills changed their web site. In November 2006, AAMT (now AHDI) sent a letter to TechSkills, notifying them of the misuse of “certified medical transcriptionist” and “CMT” and requesting that they stop using the terms, as the use implies that individuals have actually received the industry-recognized credential and it's confusing. In addition, Cathy responded to the schools' feedback form for graduates, and indicated that she had contacted over 50 employers and 48 of them had never heard of the organization issuing the “certification.” She was told by prospective employers not only is the NHA certified not widely recognized; it is, in fact, not worth the paper it's printed on.
As you can see, the site now specifies that the Certified Medical Transcriptionist (CMT) exam is through AHDI.
But wait – there's more! As those of us in the industry know, new graduates are not eligible to sit for the CMT exam. Just this year, AHDI sent TechSkills correspondence and informed them that this is misleading, as students and post-grads are not eligible to sit for the exam.
Finally, TechSkills changed the site, indicating:
You’ll also prepare for the Registered Medical Transcriptionist (RMT) exam, enabling you to earn a widely recognized industry certification from the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity (AHDI).
Going way, way back in time, it appears that TechSkills started out as a computer technology school and then branched out into other vocations some time in the early 2000s.
In the interest of disclosure, Cathy did get her money back from TechSkills after she filed complaints about their program, claims and “credential.”
So what about that”certified medical transcriptionist” or CMT?
The elusive “CMT”
The organization providing the testing and credentialing of “certified medical transcriptionist” or CMT to new graduates of TechSkills is/was National Healthcareer Association, “the benchmark in Allied Healthcare Certification.”
How can you be a “benchmark” when nobody has heard of you? I called a couple HIMS managers I know, at large hospitals (including a couple University medical centers) and none of them have even heard of this organization or its certification. I called several clinics, with the same results.
I like the broad ambiguity of this statement. It doesn't say these organizations require the National Healthcareer certification – but since NHA has “national certifications,” it is implied, in my opinion. Even if we ignore that, the statement is patently false. Let's look at the administrative healthcare certifications offered through NHA.
- Medical transcriptionist – no brainer. We all know there's no certification required; most of the time, it isn't even preferred.
- Billing and coding specialist – hospital coders are usually required to have the AHIMA credential. Medical billers aren't required to have a certification of any kind.
- Certified medical administrative assistant – not required in any office I've ever been in, in any state.
What does NHA do when Cathy forwards them the letter from AAMT? A response from Jon Brandt (whose function is unclear – it's not on his e-mail signature and their web site doesn't have ANY information about principals) first claims they had never received the letter from AAMT. He then states that the term “certified medical transcriptionist” and the initials “CMT” are not trademarked by AAMT – which is is true. However, these have been in use by AAMT since the late 1970s. NHA claims to have used it since 1986. But the best part of the e-mail sent Cathy, in my opinion, is this:
nor have we ever had an organization not accept the NHA certifications…
I'm not going to call Mr. Brandt at NHA a liar because he was – I would guess purposefully – vague about which organizations and which certification. If there's a lie in that statement, it would be that this has never happened. I would, however, like to see if he could make the same statement with specific reference to the NHA “CMT” and still keep a straight face. He then goes on to speculate that this is an effort by a competitor to discredit a company that's clearly ahead in the game. (Where are my eyeballs? They rolled right out of my head!)
The matter could be resolved in court, but that costs money and AHDi doesn't have any spare cash. So – it appears that the folks over at NHA will continue to cash in the bucks by offering a credential that is worthless in THIS industry.
What do we learn from this?
I called TechSkills today and said I wanted information about their program and fees. Apparently, they've learned some things, but not as much as we might think.
The individual I spoke to actually had to rustle around in papers to provide me with information. I guess this gets confusing when you offer so many different programs at so many different locations. He even had to look up how much the medical transcription program costs.
Are you sitting down? $7400. Yep, you read that right. I have been researching MT school tuition for another article I'm working on and the only AHDI-approved schools charging anything close to that are the universities and colleges – and that's the out-of-state tuition.
Although their site refers to the RMT by AHDI, the representative told me I could get a credential from either NHA or “the other.” He said (and this is word-for word):
The other is offered by a little network in the industry, so it's preferred.
He also told me that both are valid and both are well known. Well, I've been in the industry for over 20 years and this is the first time I've ever even heard of NHA.
In addition, TechSkills has an NHA testing center in their facility, with a monthly testing schedule, and graduates can arrange to take the NHA test there. In my opinion, that's still an endorsement of NHA certifications, in spite of the fact that it wouldn't be difficult to prove to them that the NHA “CMT” is worthless to aspiring transcriptionists.
What I would like medical transcription hopefuls to learn from this is that there is only one organization offering any credentials that are recognized in the medical transcription industry, and that is AHDI.
Cathy is trying to find other graduates from TechSkills, as well as others who have received the NHA “CMT” so she can start a class action lawsuit. The clock for her is ticking – the statute of limitations on her claim runs in a month.
These sort of practices affect both individuals and the industry. I'm helping Cathy spread the word and get her class action together because she lost a lot of time and money in this process.
Interested parties should Contact Cathy directly. (Her e-mail is included with her permission.) If you have any questions, please comment.