Every type of translation is challenging but medical and healthcare translation is one of the toughest. Medical translation is very demanding and it requires more from the translator. Not only does medical translation connects businesses and customers but also the professionals who work to improve people’s health and lives.
Medical translation is vital in disseminating not only medical knowledge but new medical discoveries as well. Medical translation is critical in providing healthcare services to minorities and foreigners. Several challenges are faced by medical translators.
Some of these include medical terminology, issues on equality, readability, equivalence of medical texts, and unique characteristics of the medical language such as:
- Multi-word terms and eponyms
- Abbreviations and acronyms
- Doublet phenomenon
- Synonymy and polysemy
- Word compounding
Not every translator can do medical translation. It takes a specialist to do the job. The translator should be a subject matter expert, someone who has a background in the medical field and its different sectors.
Medical translation’s role
Translation in medicine should be seamless. In a multicultural country like in the United States for example, a healthcare service provider could be treating more than 10 patients a day from different countries who does not or have limited ability to speak English or the doctor’s native language.
Without translation, patients would not be able to understand their diagnosis, their prescription, fill up the prescription and take their prescribed medicine. They would not be able to come back for their succeeding medical appointments and follow doctor’s instructions to recover from whatever ails them.
Federal law requires that any organization which receives federal financial assistance, including Medicare, Medicaid, and federal reimbursements, must provide equal care to every patient. This includes serving customers who don’t speak english, or have low proficiency, or are hearing impaired. Check our free guide on healthcare language services to know what are the requirements for your medical institution.
Assurance and assistance
Doctors and other healthcare providers have to make sure that any advice, medicine or diagnosis they give to their patient or to another medical professional should be passed on seamlessly. It should be easy to understand by the other party to ensure that they follow the advice and get their health back.
Several key challenges are faced by medical translators in any country in the world.
Medical translation must be highly accurate because it involves lives and careers. It requires specialists who are knowledgeable in the special language of medicine and healthcare. The terminology is very specific, whether it concerns medicines, the health condition of the patient or the disease that afflicts them. The words used in this sector are specific and it takes an expert to understand these words that are not often used outside the sector.
Clients must ensure that they are working with translators who are subject matter experts. The medical translator should be highly proficient in different languages and must have the right medical experience in the specific field as well as possess a deep knowledge of the sector’s technical terminology. They must be able to provide documents that would be very useful to doctors and nurses in caring for their patients.
Interpreting is another challenge for the medical institutions. Pacients might not know the language, or are not proficient enough, might have hearing conditions, and there are laws that require medical interpreting in the pacients language. Our free guide on healthcare language services can give you more information on this matter.
Medical translation covers a very diverse field. Just like doctors have their own specializations, medical translators are often specialists in different fields as well. A translator who is an expert in hematology cannot be expected to work on medical documents dealing with oncology or cardiology.
Language services providers must employ medical translators who are experts in different fields of healthcare and medicine. Clients must be specific in their requests for medical translation in order for their medical documents to be translated with 100% accuracy.
Going further than the usual regular medical services, the language used in medicine is typically reserved for a specialized community. It involves the occupational, technical, professional and academic areas of practice and knowledge. In this context, medical translation is concerned about key factors, such as the user, the field of use and the special application of the medical language.
Medical language is applied differently in expert-to-lay communication and when used between experts. The use of language varies based on the participants and the communicative situations. Specialized terms are used when the translation is to be used in expert-to-expert communication such as research papers, imaging reports, case notes and case studies and discharge summaries.
If the medical translation is between an expert and lay reader, such as between a doctor and patient or drug/medical device manufacturer and end-user, like patient fact sheets, informed consent documents, package leaflets, drug information leaflets, the medical translator must use less complex language. The text should use terminology that is easy to understand and if possible, properly explained.
The medical translator must know the intended audience of the medical documents needing translation. Experts and practitioners of medicine and healthcare will be able to understand complex terminology. The language doctors use for instructions given to nurses would be different to the instructions doctors issue to patients.
This knowledge allows the medical translator to appropriately fit the language and terminology to the intended audiences. This may include the extent of the details to be included and the language to be used when discussing particular issues with the health of the patients.
Medical translation is one of the hardest tasks in the realm of translation because if considers several factors. One is terminology, which branches into different aspects. While the use of Latin in writing and teaching medicine ended in the 19th century, its use continues to this day especially in the western world.
Modern derivatives of Latin and Greek words are used in language of medicine today and they have become the base for the modern language in the field, which also employs new trade names, acronyms and eponyms.
A large portion of the medical terminology is composed of eponyms such as Lou Gehrig disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Jefferson fracture, Adam’s apple, Fallopian tubes, Heller myotomy or Bard-Parker scalpel. These are terms derived from the names of parts of the human anatomy, diseases, medical devices, signs and symptoms or medical procedures. They can also include geographical places (Lyme disease) or fictitious characters (Othello’s syndrome).
Eponyms present some issues with translation as the terms and their equivalents in other languages may also be eponymous. It can be challenging as well if only the source or the target language is eponymous while the counterpart is from a Latin or Greek root or a descriptive term. For example, Fallopian tubes in German is Eileiter.
There are also cases when eponymous terms can also have doublets in the same language. For example, the eponymous English term for a type of intestinal parasite is Giardia lamblia. But it can be called Giardia intestinalis or Giardia duodenalis. Another example is Cowper’s glands, which is also called bulbouretheral glands.
Abbreviations and acronyms
The medical world is full of acronyms and abbreviations. While English is the lingua franca in medicine and many of the English abbreviations and acronyms are adapted by other languages, there are exceptions and the translators have to deal with this.
Doublets, affixation and word compounding
Contrast medium, patient safety and heart failure are examples of compound nominal phrases that are commonly used in fundamental medical English. When translating into other languages, these common phrases may have phrase changes or syntactic shifts. Prefixes and suffixes are also common, most of them derived from Greek or Latin, such as:
allo – different, another
adipo – fatty
carnio – of the cranium
onco – relating to cancer
hypo – insufficient
hyper – excessive
itis – inflammation
algia – pain
lepsy – seizure, attack
The differences in these affixes in different languages cause variations in semantic distribution.
Doublets can also be troublesome, as the translator has to carefully choose which term to use for specific audiences. Most of them are derived from Latin and Greek. Some examples include:
osseous tissue – bone
optic nerve – eye
adipose tissue – fat
cervical vertebrae – neck
spinal canal – backbone
frontal bone – forehead
oral cavity – mouth
auditory canal – ear
cerebral cortex – brain
Challenges to global companies
As the medical industry’s global growth flourishes, it presents all stakeholders with many challenges. They are required to comply with various new requirements and regulations. Accuracy of product information should be at the highest level because the health of the companies’ reputation and the customers rely on it.
Many legal aspects should also be met in order for the medical products to be sold in different markets around the world. Regional regulations have to be met via documentation in the target markets’ languages. In Europe, all manufacturers of medically related products must present documentation in the official languages of the member states of the European Union. The United States requires all documentations to be presented in English. In China and Japan, the documentation should be in the local languages. Aside from complying with official directives and regulations, translators must also consider cultural sensitivities.
Because medical translation is a task that requires expertise, you should award your medical translations only to the experts. Day Translations, Inc. have teams of subject matter experts in healthcare and medicine who can give justice to your medical translations. Give us a call anytime at 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at Contact us. Our human translators are all native speakers. We are HIPAA compliant and are readily available to respond to your medical translation requests anywhere in the world, as we are open 24/7. We give you the assurance that your medical translations will be 100% accurate, using the right terminology and tone depending on your target audience.