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Medical Document Translation: Challenges and Benefits

Translation, Healthcare Annie Pagano on Oct 30, 2018 10:30:00 AM

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medical document translation

The proper translation of medical documents is essential for providing equitable care and treatment to patients who speak a foreign language. No matter what language your patients speak; you need to be able to communicate effectively. Effective and efficient communication can be accomplished through medical interpreters and through the translation of important medical documents like patient records, service agreements, and post discharge instructions.

Medical translation is a highly specialized field of translation due to the technical and sensitive nature of documents (they greatly affect human life after all). Medical translation presents several unique challenges, meaning that general translation expertise or bilingual speaking capabilities alone is not enough to deliver an accurate translation.

Medical documents frequently make use of specialized terminology and newly developed concepts that may not even exist in the target language. As the medical field is inherently broad, translators need expertise and experience in the sub-discipline or knowledge area to which a document pertains.

So, what do you stand to gain by translating medical documents? Doctors and nurses will be better informed about the state of their patient’s health if they have access to their translated health care records. Patients will benefit as well, since they will be aware of the details regarding any medical procedure they are planned to undergo.

As a medical provider, you should consider providing these translations for your patients:

• A basic simple patient medical history
• Any patient consent forms required for medical procedures
• Post-discharge instructions for patients

All these medical documents include valuable information that is necessary for both the patient and the doctor, to provide patients with the best care. Throughout this article we will outline the benefits of medical translation as well as the challenges presented to demonstrate the importance of a professional handling this important work.

Let’s start with some of the challenges presented in the medical field:

Specialized Language Knowledge

It's almost as if the medical industry has a language of its own, what with the extended use of shorthand and specific industry jargon.
One of the problems faced by medical translators is the free use of abbreviations and acronyms in the field of medicine. They are defined differently in various dictionaries and scientific literature. Therefore, it's important that you partner with a company who has experience translating for the medical field.

Professional translators with an understanding of the medical field can accurately translate medical records, doctor manuals, instructions, prescriptions and patient records


Untranslatable Words

One cannot discuss technical translation without also addressing the issue of "untranslatable" words. Quite often medical translators are faced with the challenge of translating a word, a phrase, a concept that does not have a direct equivalent in the target language.

Sometimes translating such a word or phrase would render the translated version meaningless so the temptation for the translator may be to leave it out altogether.


4 Things to Consider When Choosing a Medical Translation Company


Finding The Balance Between Cost And Quality

Understanding how to maintain the balance between quality and cost is one of the main challenges of translating medical materials. If for some reason you need an example to highlight how important translations are in the medical field, read NPR's article, "In The Hospital, A Bad Translation Can Destroy A Life."

We understand that you want to keep costs down, and we will do everything we can to assist you, however, this is not an area that you can skimp on. Later in this article, we will discuss how translation memory technology can help control costs while maintaining a high level of quality over time.


Staying Up-To-Date

As we've mentioned earlier, there is a lot of specialized terminology involved in medical translation projects. So, it's increasingly important that you find a translation team who can stay up-to-date with industry knowledge.

Translators who specialize in the medical field often immerse themselves in the latest medical research, subscribing to useful industry journals to keep up-to-date with new developments.
By staying informed about new developments and terminology, these translators are able to develop a nuanced understanding of the healthcare field and perform to a consistently high standard.

Want to know how to mitigate these risks and challenges? Continue reading.


Benefits of Medical Document Translation + Risk Mitigation


Reducing Patient Stress


Trips to the hospital or doctor’s office can be very stressful for people. Now imagine that you have a difficult time attempting to understand basic information and documents written in a foreign language.

Stressful isn’t it? It is essential that a patient can read documents in a language that they are comfortable with. This will vastly improve communication between patient and doctor, which can help make the patient feel more secure.


Improved Communications

When you leave medical document translation to qualified translators who are familiar with medical terminology, have medical industry experience, and are fluent in both source and target languages, you will see improved communication in all aspects of your business. Inevitably, this will lead to happier patients with fewer mistakes and misinterpretations of information.


Why You Need To Hire A Professional Translator

Though it's clear that there are many benefits to translating medical documents; the translations need to be carried out by professionals. The smallest mistake with a medical translation can result in a dangerous situation for a patient. Any confusion or ambiguity concerning medication dosage or patient allergies can lead to serious consequences. Therefore, it is best to trust translation to professional linguists who are experts in the field. In some cases, a certified translation by a qualified professional can be a required aspect of the service contract.

Translation in the medical and healthcare field often involves technical medical terms that the average man or woman wouldn’t know. By entrusting medical document translation to professionals who are fluent in medical terminology, mistakes and resulting mishaps will be easier to avoid.

Another benefit of working with a professional translation services company is that they utilize translation memory technology. Quality and consistency are essential for saving lives and providing proper, equitable care to all patients, no matter what language they speak, and translation memory tools help to ensure that exactly.


Benefits of Translation Memory For Medical Documents


Translation Memory Leads To Better Costs Over Time

Is there consistent and repeated terminology or phrases within your medical documents? Well, translation memory works by recognizing these phrases or repeated sentences that have previously been translated, which helps save time for the translator. And, as you know, time is directly related to cost.

Translation memory can help translators determine matches in text so they don't have to re-translate text matches. The more content that is translated, the more valuable translation memory becomes. Translation memory is an effective method for minimizing costs, allowing the translation company the ability to shrink project timelines, while maintaining a professional level of consistency and accuracy.


Medical Document Translation

The process for medical document translation requires translators to be as diligent as surgeons. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as hiring a translator who speaks the language to translate the information. The subtle variations in medical language are unique and skimping on certain steps in the translation process could lead to a miscommunication with life-or-death consequences.

Certainly, medical translations need to cover a wide spectrum of information.

Medical translations can include but are not limited to:

• Discharge Instructions
• Prescription Labeling
• Drug Usage Information
• Medical Device Packaging
• Consent & Release Forms
• Patient & Doctor Manuals


Most of these documents involve terminology based on the context of available information. While it can be tempting to use machine translation, you absolutely cannot assume that machine translations will provide you with a product that is adequate, especially when a patient’s health is on the line. As a translation company continues to work with you, the translation memory database will keep growing.

As we have stated before, accurate communication is paramount in medical translations, and translation memory works to ensure accurate communication. There are ethical and legal responsibilities intertwined with your position as a health care provider, so while saving money should be a matter of concern, you should not cut financial corners and sacrifice the accuracy of your translations. Why not satisfy both priorities by choosing a language translation service that utilizes translation memory?

Here's the bottom line:

In order to best treat a non-English speaking patient, you must work with professional interpreters and translators. Just as doctors, nurses, and various healthcare providers study for many years to learn their craft, so do professional medical translators.

Would you trust the janitor to diagnose your moms chest pain just because he works in the hospital? Probably not, so, why would you trust the same person to translate a prescription with medical terminology?

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