Medical Document Translation Tips for a Successful Project

Pollion Team

Healthcare has become a big business in recent decades and is set to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. As this global industry continues to grow and expand, there’s a growing need for medical document translation services. 

Medical documents are needed to provide the correct care and treatment for patients who speak foreign languages. Those working in healthcare must be able to communicate effectively with these patients. Medical interpreters work with healthcare providers and their patients in many hospitals and clinics around the world. They offer services that can include translation of medical documents, such as patient records, an explanation of what the doctor or healthcare provider has said, translation of discharge care instructions, and more. 

Medical translation is a specialized field of translation because of the sensitive nature of all aspects of healthcare, including medical document translation. However, medical translation has several unique challenges. It takes specialized translators to translate medical information accurately. 

What is Medical Document Translation? 

Medical document translation is the translation of all medical documents related to the healthcare industry. Medical documents can include: 

  • Patient medical records
  • Medical supply documentation 
  • Medical reports for insurance companies
  • Medical files
  • Clinical tests
  • Scientific publications
  • Scientific research
  • Academic Papers
  • And more

Some patients seek healthcare in other countries, and companies that produce medical goods, such as technology and pharmaceutical products, also have content that must be translated for a global audience. 

Medical document translation is a crucial part of our globalized healthcare industry. The industry also includes many areas of discipline, including the following: 

  • Biochemistry
  • Dermatology
  • Genetics
  • Dentistry
  • Psychiatry
  • And more

All branches of healthcare today reach a global market, making it essential that medical document translation is done accurately and correctly. However, medical documentation can be challenging to translate. 

Challenges of Medical Document Translation 

Medical documents are written with complex terminology, making it necessary to hire a medical translator who has experience with specialist medical terminology and medical concepts. Translators must have expertise and experience in the specific area of healthcare to translate medical documents. 

Some of the challenges in medical document translation include: 

Specialized language: each branch of the medical industry has its own terminology and specific jargon. The biggest problem for medical translators is the use of abbreviations and acronyms. These words and terms may not be defined similarly in different dictionaries. For this reason, it’s essential to work with a medical translator with experience translating in that specific area of medicine. 

Untranslatable words: in some cases, medical terms, phrases, or concepts may not be translatable from one language to another. There’s not always a direct translation available in the target language. Therefore, the medical translator must find the right way to communicate the idea in the target language without creating a meaningless translation. Some translators may even leave out untranslatable words, which is not helpful for healthcare providers or their patients. 

Inadequately trained medical translators: another challenge for medical document translation is a translator who is untrained and does not have subject matter expertise. The result may be a translation filled with inaccuracies. 

Using medical professionals as translators: another common problem is that some bilingual medical professionals believe they know enough of the language to create accurate translations. However, it’s possible that a doctor may not understand the current medical terminology in the target language. 

The result of inaccurate or poor medical document translations can create significant complications. For instance, poor translations can lead to medical malpractice, large fines, job or income loss, incorrect diagnoses, misuse of medication or medical equipment, or even death. 

Medical document translation is vital to the health and welfare of patients, healthcare providers, and more. Professional medical document translation services provide precise information and instructions in regard to making a correct diagnosis, treatment of medical conditions, use of medical equipment, and more. 

Who Does Medical Document Translation? 

Medical document translation work is done by professional translators who are subject matter experts and experienced in providing translations for the healthcare industry. They must also translate documents in the right tone for the audience. 

For instance, a medical journal article is written for industry professionals. In that case, the language is more complex, and the correct terminology is required. On the other hand, translating a patient information leaflet must use language that the patient understands. It will not be as complex as the information for an industry expert. 

A medical translator must also have in-depth knowledge and experience with the languages they translate from and into. As we mentioned earlier, not all words are translatable. In that case, it’s necessary to accurately describe the target language. 

Finally, professional translators certified to work in healthcare translation are essential. These individuals have specialized knowledge of their languages and the medical field. Not only do they use strict ethical standards in their work, but they also maintain confidentiality. Linguists must be familiar with the laws and regulations that govern healthcare, handling personal/company data, and more for each country they work with. 

How to Successfully Translate a Medical Document? 

Medical document translation is necessary for our globalized healthcare; however, the process can be pretty challenging. Are there ways to ensure the translations are successful? We’re happy to say yes! You can take steps to ensure the effective translation of medical documents. In the following sections, you’ll find steps to ensure a successful medical document translation project. 

1. Define What Must Be Translated

The first step in a medical document translation project is to define what needs to be translated. So, start by determining the level of technical knowledge and specificity required in the translation. For instance, consent forms, clinical trial reports, and patient records all serve different purposes. Each document requires an extra level of technical knowledge and language specificity. 

Another consideration is the target audience and the level of their medical knowledge. Is the translation intended for patients? If so, the language and explanations need to be more straightforward. On the other hand, documents meant for medical professionals must use more technical terminology and detailed explanations. 

Finally, we must again mention the importance of the country’s medical and data regulatory requirements. Some countries require certified translations or the use of specific terminology for different kinds of medical documents. 

2. Prepare the Text

The next crucial step in medical document translation is preparing the text for translation. This step ensures the translation is accurate, consistent, and free of errors and inconsistencies. 

Formatting: text needs to be clearly formatted and consistent; all headings should be correct, along with subheadings, page numbers, etc. Doing so ensures the translator can easily navigate the document and ensure the text is organized correctly. 

All acronyms and abbreviations should be completely spelled out in the text during this step. When these are spelled out, the translator can be sure their translation is accurate and consistent with the correct meaning. 

If the medical documentation is not in file format or handwritten, it’s important to use an image-to-text OCR converter. Using an OCR converter simplifies the translation process; however, these converters are not always very accurate. They may make mistakes during scanning when the software doesn’t recognize all the characters. For this reason, it’s essential to review the text and make any necessary corrections to ensure the translator has a clear copy of the document. 

Avoid errors & inconsistencies: another critical step in medical document translation is to avoid errors and inconsistencies. Here, it’s necessary to correct all spelling and grammar errors and use medical terminology consistently throughout the document. It may be best to have a medical expert review the text to ensure it’s accurate and appropriate for the target audience. 

Provide context: next, ensuring that the translated text is culturally appropriate to the target audience is essential. For instance, a document about traditional indigenous medicine needs to be translated so that it’s culturally appropriate for a Western audience. In that case, the text may need to be adjusted to ensure sensitive cultural differences are accounted for, and the translated text is suitable for the target audience. 

3. Build a Glossary 

Creating a glossary is the next crucial step in the medical document translation process. The glossary is a list of terms and their definitions specific to a particular medical subject or field. When medical professionals create a glossary for the translator, they ensure that all terms and phrases are translated consistently and accurately throughout the document. 

Building a glossary starts by finding the key terms and phrases that appear in the document. These can include medical conditions, treatments, the names of medications, equipment, and more. It’s essential to include technical and layman’s terms because some patients may not be familiar with medical terminology. 

When the terms and words have been identified, they must be translated into the target language. For this step, it may be necessary to use online sources, and medical dictionaries or consult a professional translator to ensure the translations are current and correct. 

As you build the glossary, it’s crucial to organize the terms in a manner that makes sense for the document. For instance, you may want to ensure related terms are together or list them alphabetically. In addition, the inclusion of notes or explanations can also be helpful for the translator to clarify the meaning of terms. 

4. Hire a Professional Medical Translator

Once you have the document and glossary organized, it’s time to search for a suitable medical translator. However, some may choose to use machine translation or hire the services of a non-professional medical translator. Unfortunately, these methods may mean your medical documents are not translated accurately or correctly. 

The professional medical translator must have experience and knowledge in the medical field and the target language to ensure an effective translation of your document. They should also offer other services, such as proofreading, editing, and formatting, to ensure the finalized document is high quality. 

As you search for a professional medical translator, be sure to review their qualifications, level of experience, and expertise in the medical field. The translator should have experience working with medical documents and be familiar with the terminology and language in that specific medical field. 

Also, ask about their quality assurance process. A reputable translator has a thorough quality assurance process, which should include proofreading, editing, and a final review by an SME (subject matter expert).  

The professional medical translator should also offer guidance on cultural nuances and differences between the source and target languages. They must also ensure the document is appropriate for the target audience. 

Localize Your Medical Document

While machine translation can do a quick job of medical document translation, the software isn’t specialized enough to understand the context or to create error-free translations. This is why medical localization services are needed. 

Medical localization ensures that your medical documentation is modified correctly to meet the cultural norms and nuances of the target audience. It’s essential to find a professional linguist who has the following qualifications: 

  • Subject matter expertise
  • Confidentiality process in place (Consider asking your translator to sign an NDA before they work on the project)
  • Has the appropriate reference materials for the work (in both languages)
  • Have a record for providing accurate, consistent medical document translation
  • Know and understand the medical and data regulations in both countries (source language and target language)

Concluding Thoughts

Working with an experienced medical translator is essential to the success of your project. The goal is for the translator to provide an accurate, consistent translation that fits the target audience and its cultural nuances. 

Using the steps in this article can help you find the right professional translator and set up a successful medical document translation project. In addition, the translator must be a subject matter expert with experience with a particular topic, medical terminology (including jargon), and more. The translator also needs to have rigorous quality assurance processes in place to protect the translation against inconsistencies and other issues. 

By following the steps and guidance in this article, you’re sure to have a successful medical document translation project every time! 

Tags: Medical Document Translation