Getting Medical Translation Right

Of all the translation projects your company undertakes, anything related to healthcare or medicine presents the biggest risk. Why? Because even slight errors can lead to big problems in treatment, data classification, or reliability. These three tips can help cure your medical translation woes:



No Room for Mistakes

Translation for healthcare requries 100% accuracy. Almost correct is not good enough. Here’s why: take the English word “once,” which is often used to indicate that patients should take a single dose of medication per day. In Spanish, however, the same word means “eleven”. You can imagine the consequences of errors in such a situation.

Use the Right People

As full-time translator Maria Cornelio noted, using qualified people is critical. It may be tempting to use doctors or other medical professionals to translate health-related documents, but their hospital prowess doesn’t guarantee error-free translation. Cornelio calls out the work of foreign physicians in the United States who understand English medical terminology but aren’t familiar with idioms. In one case, a doctor translated “feeling blue” for postpartum depression as “blue baby syndrome.”

Translations using bilinguals doesn’t fare much better. In one case, a bilingual translator took the phrase, “You will be injected in a muscle” and recreated it almost perfectly in Spanish, writing, “Se le inyectará un muslo.” The problem? “Muslo” means thigh, not “a muscle,” unnecessarily restricting the injection site. To avoid this problem, always use a translation service with reputable, credible translators.

Know What You Have

Medical translation also presents another unique problem: compliance. In the United States, any company handling health-related documents must take steps to protect personally identifiable information and demonstrate its practice for doing so. The issue? Poor translations could result in improperly classified data, leading to an inadvertent breach.

As noted by the Chicago Tribune, Spanish translations of prescriptions often leave out key words or phrases because they have no easy equivalents or aren’t functionally essential. However, this missing data poses pitfalls for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliance. If audited, companies must be able to show no information has been added or removed to patient files—and pleading ignorance is no excuse.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


About Doug Bonderud

Doug Bonderud is a freelance technology writer with a passion for telling great stories about unique brands. For the past five years, he's covered everything from cloud computing to home automation and IT security. He speaks some French, is fluent in Ancient Greek and a master of Canadian English — and yes, colour needs a 'u'.