Medical translation and interpreting professionals operate in a field where there is no room for error.

You might run a practice, a hospital, a medical research team, a marketing company or e-learning provider working with a healthcare client.
But whatever your business, whatever your specific field…

If you work in healthcare, medical interpreting services and medical translation are something where you can’t afford anything but the best.

Medical translation involves translating text and documents for the healthcare industry.

Here’s why:

What is medical translation?

It is absolutely vital for things like:

  • Medical equipment or device documentation
  • Drug or medication documentation
  • Marketing materials
  • Regulatory standards documentation
  • Healthcare training and e-learning materials
  • Translation of clinical trials and research
  • Translating patient records, medical histories, diagnoses and prescriptions

It isn’t just doctors who hire or make use of medical translators. Everyone from pharmaceutical manufacturers who need to translate the labels of their latest medication to market researchers translating their latest findings needs language specialists like these.

That said, doctors, nurses and pharmacists who have patients who don’t speak the same language do rely on medical translation services to communicate clearly.

Without these linguists, the information in medical records, dosages and instructions for use may be lost in translation.

This can make the difference between life and death.

The main challenges involved in medical translation services

Medical translation jobs are extremely challenging. Possibly even more so than other fields of translation and localisation.

This is because they involve:

1) Specialist terminology

While most industries and fields will include specialist terminology and jargon, those used in the medical field tend to be particularly challenging.

There may be several different spellings, abbreviations which mean different things in different places and a huge range of other issues.
It is for this reason that the best medical translation services will use translators who actually have experience or qualifications in the field.

At Asian Absolute, for example, most of our medical translators are qualified or practising doctors themselves.

2) Regional expansion and scientific advances

Ongoing globalisation means that, increasingly, items like medication, drugs and medical devices are manufactured far apart from the markets in which they will be sold. They may even be part-manufactured in different regions, combined and then sold in others.

What’s more, healthcare is not a static field:

That’s good for us as humans. Medications and medical research continue to cure diseases and ailments of all kinds, resulting in people living healthier, longer lives.

But it’s a challenge for medical translators. Keeping on top of new scientific advances, ideas and technology is an ongoing task.

3) High-level language and complexity

In the past, some healthcare providers have been tempted to use relatives of patients who have some bilingual ability or rely on their own or a colleague’s ability to speak a second language.

In the main, this has resulted in some tragic miscommunications. In order to produce accurate medical translations, a linguist needs proper training – above and beyond even being completely fluent in a language.

It is the combination of mastery of both languages, long exposure to both cultures involved – specifically the culture around medical services and healthcare – paired with actual training in the relevant medical knowledge which it is vital to find.

In many parts of the world – the United States, for instance – the provision of a qualified medical interpreter or translator for patients who have a limited level of English is a legal requirement.

4) Many different target audiences

Identifying the correct target audience for the localisation project in question is always an important part of a Language Service Provider’s work.

In the healthcare field, this job takes on especial importance:

Firstly, because a translation might be intended for a professional or non-professional audience. This will greatly affect the choice of translated terms…

An English-speaking doctor will need to know that a patient has varicella, for instance. An English-speaking patient might understand the phrase “chickenpox” more clearly.

There is also a huge variation in how medications are referred to around the world. The WHO (World Health Organisation) has started to identify many by a system of International Nonproprietary Names (INN) in order to simplify things. But this is by no means universally accepted or used.

Here’s an example of how a common asthma medication is referred to in different regions:

  • INN – Salbutamol
  • English trade name – Ventolin
  • French trade name – Ventoline
  • USAN (US Adopted Name) – Albuterol

Finally, selection of the correct target audience must be based on region – not just language. There are huge differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain, Mexico, different parts of South America and the United States, for example.

Even between British English and American English there are several large and obvious differences in even basic terminology related to the healthcare field.

Why is medical translation so important?

The main reason medical translation needs to be of the highest quality is that lives are – quite literally – on the line if things go wrong:

1) The human cost of translation errors

There are numerous horror stories where poor translation or localisation has resulted in permanent illnesses and even fatalities.

There is simply too much at risk to leave a translation intended for healthcare to anyone other than a qualified, experienced and highly skilled language specialist.

2) The financial cost of mistakes

Understandably, patients who have suffered the consequences of incorrect medical treatment due to poor translation tend to sue. When they do, they tend to win – and the pay-out tends to be big.

3) The ground it covers

Though it can be tempting to think of healthcare translation as a fairly limited field, the truth is quite the opposite.

From medication labels to drug trials to front-line medical care to medical device manufacturing to e-learning and training materials, the field is huge and wide-ranging.

What is medical interpreting?

Medical interpreting, on the other hand, is the verbal translation of speech related to the healthcare field. It might be used in a huge variety of circumstances:

From doctors or nurses dealing with patients who don’t speak the same language to researchers interviewing the participants of medical research trials to business meetings between manufacturers in the pharmaceutical industry.

The use of interpreters in healthcare has a history stretching back hundreds of years. Without highly trained linguists like these, clear communication between two parties who speak different languages would not be possible.

The benefits of medical interpreting

Part of the reason why there always seems to be medical interpreter jobs available – why healthcare specialist interpreters always seem to be in demand – is that there is a huge range of benefits to using them:

1) You meet your legal requirements

In regions like the United States, the provision of a qualified medical interpreter is a legal requirement.

Plus, with over-the-phone medical interpreting presenting being such an affordable – and on-demand – option, there really is no reason not to provide this kind of vital language support.

2) You get a clear medical history

As a healthcare professional, you’ll know just how vital it is to get an accurate medical history of any patient before you treat them.

Even if a patient has a bilingual friend or family member, or a multilingual member of your team is willing to translate the conversation, there is no guarantee that they have the specialist medical terminology required.

The infamous tale of Willie Ramirez, whose condition – described as “intoxicado” by his relatives – was incorrectly translated as being “intoxicated” by medical staff should be a cautionary tale to all.

The family was using the catch-all Cuban way of referring to thinking that you’re ill because of something you ingested.

The medical staff assumed they meant something completely different. This resulted in Willie Ramirez never walking again.

3) You keep your patients and their families relaxed

Visiting a doctor – whether for yourself or with a suffering family member – can be stressful at the best of times. Imagine trying to get across what the problem is in a second language – or to medical professionals who speak a completely different language altogether!

This can result in some of the most heartbreaking medical interpreting scenarios, such as the case of the Tran family:

Their 9-year old daughter had to supply her own very rough interpretation of what was wrong with her, only being succeeded by her 16-year old brother when she could no longer speak. She died soon after.

Ensuring that trained and experienced medical interpreters are either on-hand – or can be reached over the phone if all else fails – is the way to stop terrible situations like this from occurring.

4) You make your appointments more efficient

Being able to communicate clearly ensures that your appointment schedule works like a well-oiled machine.

There will be no need for other members of your medical team to take time out of their work to provide medical interpreting for your practice. There will be no need to update incorrect information taken during earlier appointments.

In fact, all of the issues which language barriers bring along with them will be things of the past.

5) You improve your reputation in the community

Knowing that you provide professional interpreters shows people who speak or are happier speaking other languages in your local community that you care for their well-being.

Whether this helps you persuade them to visit you earlier – thus making it more likely that you can catch illnesses and other complications early – or to choose your practice rather than another provider probably varies depending on your region.

But, as the main goal of medical translation and interpreting services is to overcome language barriers in healthcare, you will still be providing an atmosphere which is more caring, more respectful and more likely to be known as a place where the priority is healing.

Is accurate, precisely localised medical translation or medical interpreting something you or your business needs?

Get in touch with us today – with no cost or obligation – and let us know about your situation.

Or simply comment below if you have a quick question. We’ll get right back to you.