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October 13, 2017 |

Why Medical Translation Demands 100% Accuracy

Whether it’s pharmacological instructions or doctor’s notes, accurate medical translation is extremely important. People’s lives may depend on the exact meaning of a word, as it describes medical procedures, the composition of a medication, or instructions for treatment. That’s why medical translation demands 100% accuracy. There’s no room for error when people’s lives are at stake.

Inaccurate translations in general generate confusion, embarrassment, or an array of uncomfortable situations. Many a large company has experienced a drop in sales after translating their marketing messages poorly–just ask Ford, Gerber, or KFC. And incorrect interpretations of a politician’s statement have even caused tensions between countries, or wars to escalate.

Yet in few areas of translation is 100% accuracy so vital as in medical translation. Important documents, such as clinical reports, instructions for use, medical research, or medication labels are essential for people’s health. Any error here can cause serious damage, not only for the producer, but also for patients.

A strong marketing campaign or team of PR experts can repair a badly translated slogan. But what happens when poor medical translation threatens a patient’s life?

There’s No Room for Error in Medical Translation

In 2007, 47 patients had to go through a second knee replacement surgery as a result of inaccurate translation. A painful procedure that requires months of recovery done twice, all because the translator translated “non-cemented” or “without cement,” instead of “non-modular cemented.”

Just one single word caused months of unnecessary discomfort for these 47 people, not to mention untold financial consequences for the company concerned. But, at least this was one of those cases where the problem had a solution. It wasn’t an ideal one, but the patients were correctly treated in the end. In other cases, the outcome maybe fatal.  

Medical translation needs technical precision. You can’t exclude, add or substitute anything. An incorrect word causes complications, as doctors can’t tell if their new instruments have correct instructions or not.

Omission of information can be equally problematic. For example, leaving out key data in dosage instructions can transform a perfectly good medication into life-threatening pills. A word missed out in a patient’s file can change a diagnostic.

Specialists in medical translation know that every word matters for the meaning of the source text to be understood in the target language. Interpretation and substitutions are kept to a minimum, so as not to influence the final texts. Yet, they localize for each target language, so that medical professionals and patients can understand what they read. Remember that Spanish spoken in Spain can be very different from that used in Colombia or Argentina.

Bad Translation Can Cause Serious Complications, Including Death

Medical translation isn’t just about rewriting instructions and clinical trials from one language to another. It’s understanding the source information and being able to turn over its best and most accurate localized version.

There’s a difference between “spinal cord cancer” and “medullary thyroid carcinoma,” for example. Most patients can’t see it unless guided by their doctors. But professionals in medical translation know the importance of such details for a patient’s therapy, or for going through studies about new possibilities of treatment.  

Furthermore, professional medical translation is vital during doctor-patient interaction. It helps people gain trust in the specialists they’re working with. It also protects doctors from making accidental errors, like the unnecessary double mastectomy performed on an English patient in Spain. In this case, the unfortunate episode happened because the patient’s medical records contained a translation error. No doctor could have prevented that, but a specialist in medical translation could.

Experts in medical translation are vital in healthcare, as people’s lives depend on their work. Studies revealed that, in some cases, language barriers can have permanent effects on patients.

People die when hospitals fail to provide professional language services for their patients. Using family members as interpreters can lead to fatal errors. The same is true when placing the translation responsibility on bilingual doctors. Medical language is complex, including specific terminology that can vary between different languages.

Specialized translators often take years to learn how to handle specific situations and problems in medical translation. Their accuracy makes the difference when any mistake can cost lives.

Incorrect Medical Terminology in the Pharmaceutical Industry Puts People at Risk

Experts in medical translation have an essential influence over the pharmaceutical industry. Their job is to make sure that every imported medication on the market is accompanied with accurate information.

Each label on the bottles and inside the packaging must include a wide range of details, such as:

  • Indications and usage
  • Storage instructions
  • Dosage forms
  • Warnings and precautions
  • Side effects / Adverse reactions
  • Drug interactions
  • Frequency of use
  • Contraindications
  • Expiry date

Readability is as important as accuracy in medical translation. Instructions must be exact, but clear and simple, so that patients understand medication labels. Medical translators often localize content to overcome education differences, language and cultural barriers.

When not understanding the characteristics of their medication, some people fail to achieve adequate treatment. They may even quit taking their medication, too ashamed to ask the doctor for more instructions.

Medical translation is an essential part in producing and selling medication abroad. Through clear information, companies provide better products and services.

Inappropriate Translation Can Place Authorization Approvals at Risk

The medical industry is highly regulated, as it involves life and death outcomes. Countries have therefore developed strict rules when it comes to medication, as people need access to clear information and instructions when they buy it.

Yet, laws vary from one country to another. What makes a medication good for the American market can keep it away from other countries. The European Union, for example, has rigid regulations for both medicinal products and clinical trials. Japan, China, and other large markets have their own regulations to follow.

Obtaining approval for medication involves a lot of work and impeccable medical translation. Companies need to put together tons of documents and provide often years of medical research to prove efficiency and rule out side effects. Each country then needs all documents translated in the local language, including:

  • Patents
  • Clinical trials
  • Case reports
  • Protocol documents
  • Synopsis
  • Translated package leaflets
  • Summary of the medicinal product of characteristics (SmPC)    

Even the best medication can receive a denied authorization if translators have failed in their job. A small mistake in converting measurements, for example, can make an efficient pain killer inappropriate for human use, or render a clinical trial irrelevant.

Experts know that medical translation demands 100% accuracy for each target language. They consider all aspects when embarking on a translation project in the industry: style, layout and content standard. This way, all relevant information is included on the new label.

Incomplete documentation will lead to authorization disapproval. Which translates into unnecessary costs and no market share for the company.

Accurate Scientific Translation Is Imperative for Research

Medical translation extends to clinical documentation, reports, pharmaceutical substances, clinical protocols, biochemistry, and many other similar fields.

In a nutshell, it’s scientific–and, like all areas of science, medical research is lost without proper translation. To keep informational flows intact, the medical industry needs to make the data available in many languages.

It’s not just plain numbers that need to travel from one laboratory or University to another. Scientists need context. But sometimes inexperienced or unprepared translators can miss subtle ideas and complex details. A bad translation can lead to failure in research. Specialists can lose funds, or even hundreds of working hours.  

Most important of all, medical translation is about patients. They have the right to understand the medical facts behind a doctor’s decision and any relevant information on their health should always be available in their mother tongue.

Need medical translation? With over 20 million words translated for the medical industry and fully HIPAA compliant, contact us today for 100% accuracy and quality guaranteed.