Many tend to think that medical translation is something that can address the need for simpler terms to replace medical jargon. There is a common misconception that medical translation is the solution in understanding “difficult” words used in the health care industry.
The phrase “medical translation” is often understood by many as the translation of medical terms into simpler words. But that’s far from reality.
Defining Medical Translation
It is basically the conversion of medical documents and content from one language to another. These documents and content include:
- Clinical documentation
- Marketing material
- Technical and regulatory documents
- Medical devices
- Pharmaceutical product instructions or documentation
- Software training materials
- Medical product labels
There are also cases when documents used in conducting clinical trials need to be translated for the consumption of local clinicians and regulatory representatives. Medical translation is still about linguistic skills although there is the added factor of being knowledgeable with medical terminology. Because of the highly technical and sensitive nature of medical content, it’s important for a medical translator to properly understand medical lingo to be able to produce translations that properly represent the idea of the content being translated.
Making jargon easier to understand is not the main objective of medical translation. After all, those who will be using the translated content are not the patients but persons who have a higher level of understanding on medical information. Medical translators, however, may become more conscious in making things simpler when they are tasked to translate patient education materials. It’s a matter of who the intended audience is.
The Roles and Responsibilities of Medical Translators
As mentioned, it’s not enough for medical translators to be fluent in the languages that will be used for the translation. It’s also essential to have a thorough understanding of complex medical terms and concepts. It’s impossible to properly translate something without properly understanding the context. It is also expected that a medical translator is able to create translations that are precise and concise. Additionally, a medical translator is expected to ensure the confidentiality of the information exchanged between a physician and a patient.
The Impact of Medical Jargon on Patient Care
It is unfortunate that many in the healthcare sector still perceive jargon as a badge of honor. It is their way of showing that they are knowledgeable and different from ordinary people. Often, this kind of mindset affects patient care. It propagates the potential for misunderstanding. It diminishes the accessibility of healthcare information to disadvantaged individuals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 9 out of 10 adults find it difficult to follow routine medical advice because of jargons. There’s nothing good about this since it leads to patients deciding to skip important medical tests or in properly taking their medications. Studies have already shown how poor understanding of healthcare related information worsens patient outcomes.
Since 2010, the US federal and state officials have been pushing for the simplification of medical language when used by doctors, health professionals, and insurers to interact with patients. In fact, a federal program called National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy was even created to promote simplified healthcare and medical language across the United States. Under this program, terms such as dyspepsia (indigestion), cutaneous (skin-related), petechiae (rash), and anaphylaxis (abrupt and serious allergic reaction) will have to be presented in simpler terms especially when used in medical product labels and patient education materials.
Medical Translator vs. Medical Interpreter
The arguments change when talking about medical interpreting as opposed to medical translation. In most cases, medical interpreters are hired to serve as the liaison between physicians and patients who speak different languages. Interpreters may be hired to facilitate discussions among medical professionals but their usual task is to facilitate understanding between patients and medical providers.
Medical interpreters are expected to put their translations in simpler terms. Most of the time, they are expected to address the jargon barrier issue. If they have difficulties understanding certain medical terms, they should ask the physician for clarification to simplify things for the benefit of the patient. Conversely, it is important for them to clearly, precisely, and concisely interpret the words of a patient for a physician to make the proper diagnosis.
It is unfortunate that many hospitals continue to ignore policies in hiring qualified medical interpreters. Many hospitals still employ untrained and inexperienced medical interpreters. There are also interpreters who do the verbal translations simply for the sake of translating. They don’t care if the patients understand what they are talking about. Some interpreters also fail to properly distinguish similar-sounding words like the French “estomac” (stomach) and Creole “lestomak” *(chest), which can lead to severe or life-threatening situations.
Ultimately, this post aims to emphasize the difference between a translator and an interpreter. Translation is to writing while interpreting is to the verbal aspect of translating. Translators, for the most part, only have to deal with the language-to-language concerns of medical translation. Medical interpreters, on the other hand, are supposed to make things easier to understand for patients. Moreover, they have to have the experience and keenness in properly differentiating words as little mistakes (including mishearing) have serious implications.
To answer the question on this post’s title – NO, medical translators are usually not expected to simplify medical jargon unless they work with patient education materials.