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What Are the Consequences of Inaccurate Medical Translations?

All types of document translations should be 100 percent accurate. The stringent requirement is more critical in medical translations and legal translations. These two types have specific terminologies and conventions that translators must strictly follow, which is why they need subject matter expertise. Medical translators typically have formerly worked in the medical and scientific fields and received further training and certifications.

It is unfortunate inaccurate medical translations occur. The most traditional reasons for medical translation inaccuracy include the following:

  1. Dealing with abbreviations. This is a frequent problem because some terms have various abbreviations. In some cases, multiple terms use the same abbreviation. Even doctors commit medical errors because the abbreviations are confusing.
  2. Language evolution, synonyms, and neologisms. Neologisms or newly coined expressions and words, synonyms, and the mixing of obsolete and practically obsolete terms with current terminology represent factors that contribute to the inaccuracies. The speed of change makes it difficult to correct and update specialized glossaries and referencing dictionaries.
  3. Inadequately trained medical translators. This is the most common cause of mistakes in translation. When the translator is untrained and does not have subject matter expertise, “mild dementia” can be translated as “light dementia” and the translation of “medullary thyroid carcinoma” can become “spinal cord cancer.”
  4. Using medical professionals for medical translations. Being bilingual is not enough to be a translator. Even if the doctor can understand medical terms in another language, a qualified medical translator receives language training and should be fluent in at least one language pair.

What are the consequences of inaccurate medical translations?

Many significant complications arise due to bad or inaccurate translations. It can cause lengthy legal battles, accusations of medical malpractice, hefty fines, closure of facilities, job/income loss, wrong diagnoses and wrong prescriptions, and death.

One example is the erroneous translation of the instruction manual of implanted knee prostheses. The incident occurred in a hospital in Berlin, involving 47 patients. The original text was “non-modular cemented prostheses.” But they translated it into “prostheses that do not require cement.” Therefore, the device was implanted without cement, causing more pain and suffering to the patients.

Why is medical translation important?

The United States is a land of immigrants. As of 2020, 85.7 million people in the U.S. are of immigrant origin. About 67.3 million people do not speak English at home. Access to health care for elderly immigrants who do not speak English is often minimal because they fear the healthcare providers will not comprehend them.

  • In the current health crisis, the accurate medical translation and medical interpreting services in medical facilities allayed the fear and uncertainty of the non-English speaking population.
  • Medical translation services provide linguistic services to a variety of institutions. Professional medical translation services can help preserve many lives. In the current health crisis, it is critical for people to gain the right awareness about the virus. Medical translators are essential in providing the precise information and instructions on how to differentiate the symptoms of the common cold and flu and coronavirus infection.
  • Right now, experienced medical translators can help in distributing information about the virus. They can translate a good deal of recorded information regarding the symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis, treatments, clinical trials, results, recent discoveries, vaccines, and other related information for a global audience.
  • Medical translation covers many areas in the medical field. Medical translators provide translation of information to various types of information related to pharmaceutical products, product information and instructions for medical devices, clinical trials and results, medical histories of patients and medical reports.
  • They are available to help healthcare providers carry out treatment plans for their patients who do not speak the local language. They may need translating medical records and help patients follow their diagnosis, the treatment plan, prescriptions, dosages, and drug information.

What are the usual mistakes in medical translation?

Medical translation provides the medical and healthcare providers and medical facilities the means to communicate properly with patients, colleagues, and other stakeholders who speak different languages to understand one another.

But despite the many benefits and advantages the medical translation provide the healthcare industry, mistakes still occur. Here is a look at what mistakes commonly occur.

  • Failure to use a professional medical translation service. Some laws require healthcare providers and facilities to implement a language access program. The deployment of the program is not yet fully realized because some facilities do not have the budget for it. There are also laws prohibiting the use of family members, friends, and even bilingual healthcare workers to act as a translator for a non-English speaking patient.
  • Not employing the appropriate terminology. The medical field includes several branches, and medical providers have various specializations. Each branch has a unique set of terms. However, it is challenging to update references because of the speed of development and use of current terms. Clients should supply the most up-to-date terminology list to ensure the translator has access to new and suitable terms.
  • Not using certified medical translators. Medical translation is demanding. It requires precision, deep knowledge of the subject, and years of experience. Certified medical translators have language training. They attend medical translation training and sit for exams before they can receive certification.
  • Using free translation tools. Medical translation demands accuracy, and precise interpretation of the tone, language and its nuances. It requires human translation skills, which machines cannot provide. Medical translation adopts formal language that only a human subject matter expert can deliver. Translating medical terms is tricky, and the translator needs to determine the exact terms. Likewise, similar languages include variations, and the terms may differ.

Can you overcome translation problems?

Yes, it is possible to overcome translation problems. You can do it with continuing education and training. It is vital to update and refresh knowledge, follow trends and know how to employ and adopt modern technologies. Translators use several computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools to streamline their translation process and maintain consistency. They should identify their problem areas and find ways to correct them. Using reference books, special dictionaries, and understanding the context of the information will improve their translation skills.

We are constantly available to handle your translation project.

eTranslation Services is always ready for your translation project. Our native-speaking translators and subject matter experts work with over 200 languages. Whatever type of translation service you need, we will deliver. Let us discuss your requirements. You can easily contact us at or through (800) 882-6058.


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