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Medical Transcription: Tips for Word Expanders

Word expanders are personal to each medical transcriptionist. You can customize them to fit how you think, what you particularly like or dislike typing, and the kinds of reports you transcribe. No two medical transcriptionists use the same expander the same way. The power you get out of your expander has everything to do with what you put into it.

Expander programs come fully functional out of the box, and often even have a generic starter library of shortcuts. However, like training wheels on a bike, that starter library can go from helper to impediment pretty quickly. When you’re ready to get serious, you’ll need to lose the training wheels.

In expander-land, that means tossing that starter file and building a shortcut library that works as you do. So, where do you start?

  • Read the manual that came with your expander. It won’t kill you, and you’ll learn amazing tricks your expander can perform that you’d otherwise completely miss out on. Every word expander comes with its own repertoire of cool, productivity-boosting stuff, so it’s not a “seen one, seen ’em all” kind of thing. What if it could do the dishes for you if you only knew which keys to press?

  • Start slowly and adapt. The thrill of quadrupling productivity gets many medical transcriptionists feverishly adding shortcuts the minute the program is installed. You may get a lot of shortcuts in there fast, but they won’t be the right shortcuts.

    You’re better off using the system a bit and trying out different options. There’ll be some initial trial and error in discovering what works best for you — that’s part of the process of building a killer system. Allow for that time, and your patience will pay off. Then you can start feverishly adding shortcuts.

  • Use a system to determine your shortcuts. You can’t possibly remember the thousand-plus shortcuts you’ll eventually have in your files, but you can remember a set of rules. Plus, you don’t have to create a system from scratch; those who have expanded before you have blazed trails you can follow. Two of the best places to start:

    • The book Saving Keystrokes, by Diana Rolland, is packed with awesome techniques and examples.

    • The ABCZ system created by Jon Knowles is another favorite.

    These systems employ very different techniques, but both are very powerful. One will probably resonate with you more than the other. Ultimately, you may decide to devise your own system, but surveying what’s already out there first is a good idea. At the very least, you’ll get some ideas for techniques you want to borrow or avoid.

Don’t wait until you graduate from a training program to get some word expander practice. Yes, it’s best to start by typing reports out in full, the old-fashioned way, so you can etch into your mind how various things should be done, but as you near graduation, find a word expander somewhere and start using it.

Beware of unintended expansions! Sooner or later it will happen: You’ll type something you wanted to appear exactly as entered, forgetting you previously used it as a shortcut. Your expander won’t forget, and it will do its job and expand it. If you don’t notice, the results can be embarrassing. Unwanted expansions also can happen when you back up to correct something and confuse the poor expander.

Every expander program has a “suppression” function. If you don’t want a particular combination to expand in a particular instance, you hit the suppression key combination instead of the space key, and you’re on your way free and clear (and expansion-less). Want to know which keys to press? You’ll have to read the manual, because each expander is different.

Your expander is a pipeline bringing you increased income. Back up that expander file regularly!

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