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Foot Pedals for Medical Transcription

A foot pedal (also called a WAV pedal) is used in medical transcription because it enables you to control dictation playback with your toes. You can play, rewind, and fast forward by tapping different sections of the pedal with the front of your foot.

Foot pedals are differentiated by the type of connector used to plug them into a computer or transcriber device. The figure shows a foot pedal and two common connector types, USB and serial. Although most foot pedals look and function similarly, the connector matters because some transcription software will work only with a particular type of connector.

  • USB foot pedals are by far the most widely used. The connector is a small rectangular plug (12mm x 4.5mm) that plugs into a USB port. One edge of the connection is slightly wider than the other, which prevents you from plugging it in upside down.

  • Serial foot pedals use a DB-9 serial connector. The connector is like the letter D when viewed head-on and has nine holes. Most new computers don’t come with a serial port anymore, because it’s old technology, but some transcription services still use software that requires a serial foot pedal.

    Getting a serial port added to a desktop computer is pretty easy, but it’s often impossible for laptops. You may be able to get away with using a USB to DB-9 adapter instead, but you’ll be venturing into technically tricky territory.

    A foot pedal and two common types of connectors.
    A foot pedal and two common types of connectors.

In the increasingly rare event that you use a device other than your computer, such as a C-Phone, to play back transcription, it will come with its own foot pedal (with its own special connector type, of course).

Which transcription pedal you’ll need is determined by the transcription platform you use. Fortunately, there’s a lot of cross-compatibility, especially when it comes to newer USB foot pedals. The best strategy is to continue with the pedal you used during MT training as long as possible. There’s no reason to buy another one unless you have to.

Medical transcriptionists often keep a spare backup pedal and headphones on hand, just in case. Some even keep an entire semi-retired computer, too.

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