The Importance of Language Translation in Healthcare

In today’s world of multicultural communities comprising of people who belong to different races, regions, linguistic and ethnic groups, effective communication has now become a sort of challenge.

Translation is crucial for communication and exchange of information between different languages and cultures. But, when it comes to an industry as important as healthcare, the need for competent translators is even higher. Why you ask? Because it involves human lives!

Proper diagnosis is difficult when doctors, nurses and other healthcare advisors don’t speak the same language as the patient. The consequences could be as serious as errors in diagnosis, mistreatment and even death.

What is Medical Translation?

By definition, medical translation is the process of translating various content for multiple medical industries, including healthcare, pharmaceutics, psychiatry, medical jurisprudence and more. Medical advisors and regulatory bodies engage the services of medical translators to translate patient records, prescriptions, pharma labels, post-discharge details, clinical trial protocols and instructions on locally-sold medical devices written in foreign languages.

A report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts translation jobs to grow by 29% between 2014 and 2024. This highlights the fact that medical translation makes for a promising career option for those with excellent communication skills and a sound knowledge of medical sciences in their respective native languages.

A professional medical translator doesn’t just translate the text; he/she localises it so that the integrity of the message remains the same when translated from one language to another.

Localisation primarily includes addressing the cultural and social conventions of a country to convey the intended message. The process of translating medical texts and documents includes translation by native medical translators, proofreading by another local medical expert and stringent quality review. A medical translator’s role is to incorporate the cultural adaption of the language and then format the document for the patient population in a particular geography.

Medical translation experts should have in-depth subject knowledge and be well versed with the standard terminologies used in the respective medical field – in the source and the target languages.

When it comes to patient care, an accurate understanding of what needs to be translated is extremely crucial for all the stakeholders.

Medical Translation Errors:

The level of accuracy plays a significant role in medical translation as human beings are involved, and even a minor slip can be a threat to life. One of the commonly faced errors in medical translations is translating abbreviations. When translating, a medical translator has to deal with abbreviations, where a few problems arise. Often, there are several abbreviations for the same terminology, which means the translation should reflect actual meaning with relevant context.

A research paper titled “The impact of abbreviations on patient safety” published in The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety shows the common abbreviation mistakes.

medical translation

An example of a falsely translated instruction manual is the case of 47 wrongly implanted prosthetics at a hospital in Berlin.

The original text in English was – “non-modular cemented prostheses.” This phase was translated as – “prosthetics that don’t require cement.” Therefore, the prosthetics were implanted without cement. The consequences for the patients were pretty unpleasant!

A specialised professional medical translator ensures that the quality of translation in a domain as sensitive as medicine stays intact.

The Threats Associated with Improper Medical Translation:

Medical translation should enable effective communication among all the stakeholders. Failure to do so can jeopardise everything starting from the well-being of patients to doctors, pharmacists and more. Implications of these medical errors are as follows:

  1. Complications due to incorrect treatment, proving to be as fatal as death
  2. Inability to provide healthcare services due to a language barrier
  3. Delayed treatment due to the failure of timely diagnosis
  4. Litigation losses, if patients claim improper communication across consent forms
  5. Misinformation due to inaccurate translation

4 Tips to Remember for Quality Medical Translation:

The following 4 things must be kept in mind while choosing a professional medical translator:

1) Getting the basic communication right

While having extensive domain knowledge is a prerequisite, the medical translator should be equally well-versed about the cultural differences and language barriers in the local market.

2) Being compliant and continuously upgrading skills

A medical translator translates different kinds of materials, i.e., everything from pharma labels, leaflets, and medical journals, to clinical trials and patient reports.

Standard medical translators should ideally comply with international certifications such as ISO 9001, ISO 13485 for medical device manufacturing and EN 15038 for vendor quality interpretations as imposed by the European Union.

The medical translation experts at Translate by Humans have a perfect understanding of medical regulatory laws across global regions.

3) Thorough research

When materials are in a different language, accurately translating them becomes of crucial importance. And hence, it becomes important for doctors to adequately study the patient’s history, their medical conditions, and ailments in order to make a correct diagnosis.

Medical translation is cognizant and knowledge-based. Even a minor slip can lead to mistranslation and put the patients involved at risk. Therefore, there are three kinds of research aids a medical translator can use:

  1. Hardware (books, dictionaries, leaflets, brochures)
  2. Software (electronic media)
  3. People-ware (human knowledge)

4) Following the six-step process

Medical texts are filled with medical jargon and abbreviations that are technical, and so it is necessary to follow a standardised process to ensure precision in translation. The five steps every medical translator should keep in mind are:

  1. Extract the medical text from the main source.
  2. Study the tone of voice and style used (sociolinguistics) implemented in the source document.
  3. After translating the document, it should be converted to the same format as the source document. This format could be a web page, protocol, an e-learning program or a Word file.
  4. The professional medical translator should then proofread the translated copy.
  5. The translated copy should be properly punctuated and free of garbled or corrupted text.

Ensure that you don’t endanger your audience’s health with a faulty medical translation since it can cost much more than just money.

Our Medical Translation Services Include:

  1. Clinical Trials/Protocols
  2. Dossiers
  3. Medical Reports/Diagnosis
  4. Drug Registration Documents
  5. QoL (Quality of Life) Measures
  6. Instructions for Medical Equipment
  7. Patient Information
  8. Journals/White Papers
  9. Toxicology Report
  10. Pharmacological Reports/Study

Google Translate vs a Professional Medical Translator:

In a study by the British Medical Journal, a team of clinicians chose ten phrases commonly used by doctors in clinical settings and used Google Translate to translate them into 26 languages.

The results were:

  1. The Western European languages had a 74% correct rate
  2. The Eastern European languages followed with a 62% correct rate
  3. The Asian languages followed with a correct rate of 46%
  4. The African languages at 45%.

The overall average for all languages was at 57.7%.

The statistics mentioned above suggest that, while “just Google it” could be the answer to many questions, the same isn’t the case in medical translation.


The medical translators at Translate By Humans possess the necessary skillset to translate into sectors such as healthcare and medicine, including CRO’S, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, medical device manufacturers, biotechnology, veterinary science, and all other life sciences. Our services are easily accessible and span across many countries, including China, Spain, Germany, Mexico, India, France, the USA, the UK, and many others.

Even a single error in medical translation can result in serious consequences. We at Translate By Humans ensure that we translate your medical documents with complete accuracy. Contact us for an unparalleled quality of medical translation done by skilled professional medical translators.

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