Medical translation: a life-saving practice

Medical translation: a life-saving practice

What is medical translation?

Medical translation emerged naturally to spread medical knowledge and help patients and experts who speak different languages understand one another in respect of health-related issues. Pharmacology, medical technology and the healthcare industry in general all employ medical translation.

As is the case in many fields of the translation industry, medical translation requires trained, specialised translators to constantly update their knowledge. Because the health and lives of people are at risk in this case, the best working practices are required.

Please keep reading to learn more about this field, its challenges and cases demonstrating its significance.

Why is it required?

This type of translation includes patient medical records and other documents, such as a number of forms, billing statements, privacy policies and authorisations for the facility to provide treatment.

Medical equipment manuals also need to be translated. Instructions for a certain product can be made clear to the intended audience with the help of a translation agency. Whether a business is introducing products to a new market or a patient has to understand the instructions, the device’s user must be capable of fully comprehending the device components, how it works, how to assemble it and how to use it.

This is also the case with clinical trials paperwork. There is a constant need for the translation of such material because so many clinical studies are undertaken globally every day. Let us take a look at some use cases next.

Increasingly important

The need for medical translation is increasing day by day. Did you know that the translation service market grew by 40% during Covid-19 and that in 2020 the demand for translation in healthcare increased by 49% due to the need to disseminate information about the disease?

Moreover, in August 2020 the CSA research institute conducted a global survey of freelance translators, with 65% of respondents believing Covid-19 had changed the market temporarily, 25% saying it had changed permanently and 10% that it had not changed it at all. The survey also shows that the healthcare and medical and pharmaceutical industries are where the demand for translation is increasing the most, as the following graph shows.

What challenges does it pose?

The issues linguists face while translating medical literature are many. Because of its terminological intricacy, this type of material demands specific lexical equivalence, terminology, readability and linguistic quality preparation.

Medical translators must be knowledgeable across a number of fields, including other subjects such as law and administration, in order to translate  the material. Medical translations must be 100% correct and can be neither vague nor ambiguous.

The biggest of them all: terminology

Being bilingual is not enough to translate, let alone translate in the medical context – bilingual doctors and nurses cannot perform well in this role because they normally have trouble looking for understandable words in target languages. So, having the ability to research and apply specific terminology properly is key.

If the translator is not a specialist in the field, they could interpret the texts incorrectly, leading to mistranslations. A simple mistake in interpreting a word relating to a dose of a particular medicine, for example, may have serious repercussions for patients.

The case of Willie Ramirez

Let us take a look at the case of Willie Ramirez, an 18-year-old baseball player from South Florida.

In 1980, Ramirez was taken to the hospital in a coma. Helen Eby, a certified medical interpreter in Oregon, reports that his family used the word intoxicado to refer to his situation, as they thought something Ramirez had eaten might have caused his symptoms.

In Spanish, intoxicado means one has ingested something, be it food, drugs or anything that can cause sickness. In English, though, “intoxicated”, the chosen adjective of the “interpreter” to translate the family’s description, strongly implies a diagnosis of a drug overdose.

Even though the mother, Concha, allegedly specified Ramirez had neither taken any drugs nor drunk alcohol, the false friend still caused problems.

It could also be argued that the language issue was exacerbated by cultural differences, as the doctor may have failed to consider the fact that in some cultures, people will never disagree with a doctor or other authority figure. The doctor needed to have a more in-depth conversation with the family to understand that Willie was adamantly opposed to drugs and could never purposefully overdose.

A couple of days later, the health team figured out Ramirez’s problem was bleeding in his brain, but by then he had suffered lasting damage and ended up quadriplegic.

Neither the doctor nor the family requested a professional medical interpreter because each side believed they were communicating adequately. Had an expert been called to help, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

Do not hesitate to request a quote from us if you require a medical translation. We will ensure your overall communication is of the highest quality and accuracy.

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