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There are various types of documents that concern the medical field. Such documents could be user manuals, patient information leaflets (PILs), informed consent forms (ICFs) and many more. The key ingredients for a medical translation of utmost quality are – knowledge and resources.
Translation of medical documentation could be of vital importance. For example, when a person is taking part in a clinical study, but does not speak the language. When doctors are in a situation like this they turn to a translator or a translation agency. There is no word strong enough to emphasize how important it is to trust your translation to an expert.
A translator that has the required expertise and years of experience in the translation industry. In simple words, mistakes in medical texts can have dire outcomes and in the most unfortunate cases, even lethal. Misinterpretations are out of the question, when we are talking about the most precious thing – a person’s health. For this reason, working closely with doctors and subject-matter experts is essential. In order to produce accurate and understandable texts that can serve their purpose in the best possible way.
After all, medical documentation is subject to strict regulations. Non-conformities can result in delays to obtaining approval. This could the end, this reduces the chances for patients to get innovative treatment or procedure and who wants that?
Apart from translators, doctors and other healthcare professionals can also work as translators and offer such services.
This is in theory a great advantage, because you are then certain the person translating is absolutely familiar with medical terminology, conditions, diseases and medical jargon, but this is not enough.
If a doctor is willing to pursue translation however, there are things to keep in mind. In order to be a successful translator they should have writing skills and fluency, otherwise readability can suffer.
As a rule, translators should possess relevant expertise in the field they are translating into. This is especially true for medical texts. Medical terminology is very specific and often requires a lot of research even for an experienced translator. Translators (similarly to doctors) often need to specialize in a certain area – for example Gastroenterology, endocrinology, neurology, etc.
They do not just translate every piece of medical document they might receive. Another important thing is that specialized texts must be absolutely unbiased. This means that if a translator feels too strongly about the source text (he could agree or disagree with it), this could affect the overall concept. Ultimately, biased approach can result in poor interpretation of the source text.
A skilled medical translator should also access appropriate reference materials. Such resources will give them a better understanding of the source text. When it comes to medical translation, it is important for translators to have access to medical terminology in both languages. This would help them verify the correct usage of the terms.
What are the challenges when translating medical text?
As with any other type of translation, challenges could arise. This is very much true for specialized translations. With medical translations you can be certain you will stumble upon at least some.
One of the examples is with abbreviations. Abbreviations in medical terminology should be strictly adhered to and this is no surprise. There are examples where the abbreviation should not be localized, too. The translator handling the text should be able to conduct the proper research. Alternatively, they should have the skills in that particular medical field and produce a truthful translation.
There is another challenge that doctors and healthcare professionals oftentimes face. We are talking about the difficulty of communication.
Imagine you are a doctor or Principal Investigator as they call it in clinical trials. You would have patients from different nationalities. Even if you know one more language that is certainly not enough to fully comprehend the patient’s condition and medical history.
When such challenges arise, a skilled medical translator would come in handy. Medical translators are the ones that bridge the gap between healthcare professionals and patients. For this reason, they should be considered a valuable asset. It is not easy to come across a skilled professional translator.
One that has the needed expertise to produce a medical translation of high quality. Training to become such a translator takes years, meticulous approach and never-ending thirst for knowledge. Medicine evolves each day and with it, also should translators.
Another thing that comes to mind is the issue with eponyms. For those who don’t know what eponym is, it is something named after a person. In medicine this can be observed with the different types of diseases, medical equipment and so on. For example, Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, etc.
When translators convert the meaning of an eponym from one language to another, they face a challenge. Oftentimes the name of the disease or equipment in question is eponymous in the target language as well. And if that isn’t enough, there could be times when the source only describes the term or it derives from Latin language which makes it even more difficult for the translator.
Among other things, there is yet another challenge that might surprise some people. It is the cultural difference. You may ask how is this relevant to medical translations? The answer is simple – in different countries, the titles of medical professionals vary, which imposes a challenge to the translator and if not precisely handled, it could lead to a mistranslation. A good translator should be aware of the cultural differences in both countries (source and target text).
Only a knowledgeable translator can adapt the content in the most accurate way possible. We should not forget that the medical documentation is intended both for patients and for doctors and other healthcare professionals.
So a translator has to produce an easily comprehensible text that is truthful to the source. But also a text that takes into account the target audiences and the cultural differences present. Admittedly, this is not a simple task, but such are reserved only for the best translators.
It may sound like a silly thing to say, but many people don’t necessarily realize the importance and repercussions of an inaccurately medical translation. Even a minor misinterpretation or punctuation error can lead to serious effects. In terms of understanding of the translation or in the worst-case scenario could affect a patient’s health, treatment plan, etc. This is precisely why accuracy is fundamental for medical translations.
There are doctors and nurses that for example volunteer in third world countries. That means they would work with patients that know only their mother tongue and this is highly insufficient. If they want to prescribe the right medicine or diagnose the patient correctly, they need to know certain things.
Healthcare professions need to understand their patient history, previous medications they were taking and other things of such importance. Here, medical translations are very much-needed to provide the patient with the treatment they need.
Another important aspect of accuracy that should be considered is regulations. When dealing with medical translations you should know that there are regulations they need to comply with.
Failing to do so might result in postponement of new devices that are ready for the market or new drugs that have been developed for years. Not all people are aware that the process for a new drug to be released is really slow.
Even one that deals with something so trivial as a headache might need 10 to 15 years of clinical research before it could be approved by the local authorities and enter the market. Having that in mind, it is crucial for translations to fully adhere to the authorities’ requirements. Especially, when the translation in question will later be presented for approval.
Most importantly, accuracy is so needed because it can save lives. Documents for translations could be anything – from hospital discharge papers and consent forms to test and analysis results.
If a test result is high and for whatever reason it gets translated as low depending on the condition of the patient, it could be life-threatening. Accuracy should be always assured with a 2-step review process. It is also recommended for a doctor to always fact-check the translation in order to ensure the much-needed accuracy and quality.
When it comes to high level translation services, knowledge and experience is not enough. Healthcare professionals need special equipment to practice medicine. It should come as no surprise that this is true for translators, as well. They need the right tools to achieve optimal results.
With the help of translation software, translators can optimize their working process. They can minimize any potential risks to the quality of the output text, edit almost effortlessly repetitive content. Thus making it consistent and compliant with regulations. Translation software could also be of tremendous help to translators during their own quality assurance process. It could verify the terminology which was used throughout the text.
Also it could check extensively the translation for potential issues with preset criteria. Undoubtedly, the professional medical translators use more than one software to check their own work and this is evident from the quality received.
When you work with an experienced translation agency you feel secure. Especially if it is ISO certified for medical devices (ISO 13485). Then you get uncompromising quality and accuracy.
This can be ensured by the mandatory steps and quality driven processes that take place when a medical text (or any type of text) is handled. This includes a second specialized translator that checks the translation for stylistic, grammar and spelling issues.
A subject-matter expert or a doctor that verifies terminology. And lastly, rigorous quality assurance procedures that can spot any little inconsistency or issue that may be missed out. With all that set in place, you don’t need to worry about your translation and how it will be understood by the patient. Certified agencies can ensure that for you.
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