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Why medical translation is so difficult and so demanded at the same time


Medical translation requires narrow specialization, experience and specific tools to execute the project with total guarantee.

“If our DNA were off by a percentage point we would be dolphins,” as Dr. House once wisely stated. What if the translation was off by a percentage point?

House M.D., Grey’s Anatomy, ER, Scrubs, Code Black… That’s just a tiny part of the diverse and profound world of medical drama series that became popular in the late 2000s and are still emerging and forming a major part of series that are offered by Netflix and HBO. But in spite of the tendency to show the more and more graphic and realistic content even in the entertainment product, the medical accuracy has never been their strength. And the situation becomes even worse if we take into account the Spanish voice over.

Medical translation, a complex area that has to be explained in a simple manner

Medical translation is a complex and highly regulated area that includes translating various types of documents, such as training materials for healthcare, medical devices or pharmaceutical manuals, marketing or clinical material, regulatory and technical documentation. The translation of medical text is very important for clinical trials in order for patients, local clinicians, and representatives of regulatory organizations to understand them.

The global medical industry is heavily regulated. Companies that need to translate their medical documentation often choose professional, compliant, and certified translation agencies. There are documented cases regarding claims for medical malpractice most of which made by foreign citizens were due to poor documentation of their records because of mistranslation in the hospital they had been relocated to. So we can easily imagine the magnitude of detail, precision and excellence needed.

Many private doctors engage the services of medical translators for their patient records, prescriptions, medical history, and diagnoses that are written in another language. But the people who are most interested in this kind of translation are insurance companies. Hospitals and clinics also outsource help when it’s time for an audit or inspection.

Stil, in spite of being highly demanded, the service is not that common because not all translators are capable of performing it. And less – doctors or sector employees that know more than one language and are asked to do so in between their shifts.

So what would you recommend, doctor?

Judging by our experience, apart from having excellent linguistic skills in the chosen language pair, the translator must have knowledge of the subject matter and have received specific training. This is not surprising given that fact that the industry is a subject to high control. Moreover, the texts are highly sensitive and technical in nature. There are other peculiar moments, such as, for example, medical translation to Spanish should use the form of Spanish that is officially recognized in the target country, same for different kinds of French, Russian or Farsi.

Then medical translators must fully understand both ethical issues and many concepts of healthcare, along with top-notch writing, research, analysis, and reading skills. It is also essential they stay up to date with new medical terms, medicine, conditions, and diseases.

Our solution

For this sensitive area Kobalt would suggest the verified and never-failing combination of human approach and new technologies. For example, assisted translation helps a lot to verify the repeated segments or phrases in medical reports, internal documents, and written consents. In collaboration with the doctors, we create glossarial indexes and style guides to make sure even the slightest detail is correct and precise.

On the other side, those machine tools help reduce costs. For example, when a hospital group once asked us to help with the documentation for an audit, we managed to cut the price significantly just by picking the only essential pieces and not asking the client to pay for the whole pile of papers to be translated. The audit was passed successfully, by the way, and the client was content, as expected.

Last but not least, whenever it’s essential to provide interpretation services (usually for less-used languages as the hospitals tend to have an interpreter of their own for the most popular ones), we start with training and instruction period to make sure there isn’t even a percentage point of the possibility something goes wrong.

Definitely, translating medical documentary, whether it’s insurance policies, diagnostic lists, studies, essays or any other related papers requires narrow specialization, experience and specific tools to execute the project with total guarantee.

Because if the translation is off by the least (better said, the whole) percentage point, we’re not just dolphins, we’re more like some aliens trying to find our way on Earth.

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