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A Guide to Medical Translation Services

When setting up medical translation services, it’s best to get specific about the expertise of the translator and the languages or dialects requested. However, since prices vary according to your needs, entrusting a premium language company to balance cost and expertise is worthwhile. This post articulates medical translation concerns and best practices.

Medical Translations – Getting Oriented

Translation or interpretation

After decades of providing translation for the healthcare industry, we know the first point to clarify is whether a client needs translation services or interpretation. It’s a common confusion.

Translation is a written conversion of language (text), while an interpretation is a spoken rendition. This article only covers medical translations – that is, the written word. Most companies that provide professional language services provide medical interpreting services and other services relevant to the healthcare industry, such as over-the-phone interpretation.

Must it be a medical translator?

The short answer is, “when in doubt, yes.” The risk of miscommunication or mistranslation of a medical document is high. Unlike translations for business and everyday life, improper legal and medical translations can produce severe ramifications. The quality of medical information impacts a patient’s decision-making ability and health.

Medical terminology management

To dig a little deeper into the need for quality medical translation services, it’s important to consider the accuracy of medical terms and their explanations.

Patients should have a right to fully understand their diagnosis. For a limited-English proficient patient, the quality of a medical translation impacts their comprehension of problems afflicting them. A lack of access to qualified in-language resources can even lead to more costly treatments and unneeded tests, known as the Language Barrier Premium.

The translation process requires more than knowledge of two languages

So how can the quality of medical translation services be guaranteed? Currently, the certification and credentialing standards for medical interpreters are more developed than those for medical translators. Therefore it’s important to find a medical translator with medical translation experience.

Medical translators should also have training in HIPAA compliance to protect patients’ PHI. A language service company can better vet translation candidates who will produce excellent medical documents and will also ensure translators are compliant with HIPAA training.

Gauging Medical Translation Quality

Characteristics of great medical translators

A good medical translation is done almost entirely by a human. The best translators work in a translation environment with the ability to refer to resources like medical glossaries, style guides and colleagues. Therefore, many expert translators receive their stream of work through language service companies.

Characteristics of companies with superior medical translation services

The best companies comply with international quality standards, like ISO 9001 (with few non-conformities). Good companies let third parties continually audit their performance. Of course, don’t forget that good service should meet your needed turnaround time!

Characteristics of a good, complete translation

What should you expect to receive from a medical translation? The medical documents in the target language should arrive at the proposed delivery time. They should also have identical formatting and page flow to the original medical documents. If needed, a certified translation will bear a Certificate of Accuracy. Notarized translations will be signed by a notary public.

How Much Does a Medical Translation Cost?

Get a quote

The cost of a medical translation is far from fixed. However, that can be good news if you won’t need certain seals of approval or have short medical documents. Generally, medical translation services are priced on a per-word basis rather than a per-page basis.

Prices vary with language and deadline

Prices of medical translation services vary according to many parameters. These include the rarity and complexity of the involved languages. Icelandic, for example, generally has a higher per-word rate than Spanish. A shorter turnaround time for translation services may incur greater costs, known as rush fees. For specific pricing information on your medical documents, feel free to request a quote. Please include your document’s word count, language(s) required, and requested turnaround time.

Prices vary based on the length and medical terminology

Longer medical translations cost more. Certain medical specialties require a greater level of expertise on the part of the interpreter and compensation rises accordingly. Examples of specialized medical documents may include informed consent forms, clinical data, and medical device manuals.

When translations need certification by the company providing medical translation services, there may be an extra charge. Notarization for a certified medical translation may raise the price as well, depending on the company.

Reducing Costs with Technology

Avoid pricey duplication in translated medical documents

While we’re discussing price, protect your budget by choosing a company that doesn’t charge for translating identical phrases multiple times. Translation memory software avoids the cost of duplicative translations. It also ensures consistency across documents.

Speaking of avoiding pricey moves, some language companies distinguish between documents with different densities and complexities of medical language and charge accordingly. This helps cut costs for simple or routine documents. Some documents provided to patients don’t require intense specialization.

Human translations with techy optimization

Let’s be clear: the human brain remains the only viable means of arriving at an appropriately translated medical document. Even without specialized medical terminology involved, only a bilingual mind is capable of the nuance and discretion required to convert many words at once. For medical translations, additional knowledge and discretion are required. But that doesn’t mean technology can’t be used to assist the translator in rendering the text effectively and accurately.

Accurate medical translations may still involve technology, but only in the right ways!

Assuring Languages and Dialects Before Booking Medical Translators

Requesting the correct dialect

As much as ALTA dislikes the ambiguous term “dialect,” (linguists don’t agree on one definition of a “dialect”) we’ll use it for simplicity. When booking professional medical translators, it’s important to ensure you have the correct dialect. When is it important? Well, a little time-travel backward for a history lesson provides an interesting and insightful answer.

For languages that have enduringly maintained congruence with the borders of a nation, this isn’t an issue. If you contracted, say, a skilled English-to-Swedish translator, they would produce fine text, which, as an added bonus, would be intelligible to anyone who spoke Swedish.

On the other hand, languages like Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic and Chinese have traveled wide distances. Over centuries, millions of people have dispersed them. Local varieties evolved.

Bottom line: medical translations require dialectical specificity

Finally, for a relatable variation, think about different types of English. The biggest variations occur in the English spoken in the UK, Australia (and New Zealand), South Africa and the US. In Britain, you are “admitted to hospital,” while in the US you are “admitted to THE hospital,” with no particular difference in meaning. Then there’s spelling: “patient-centered care,” vs. “patient-centered care.” There are also cultural-specific terms related to healthcare that someone in the UK would be more familiar with (the NHS, for example) than someone in the US, and vice-versa

Differences in medical terminology occur. They’re more impactful than spelling and article differences. Whenever accurate diagnoses and effective patient care are at stake, it’s important to get certified medical translation services in the correct dialect.

True first languages

In any country, it’s important to ensure you’ve verified a person’s true first language. Are you requesting translation services in someone’s second language, when they would better understand their first? Medical professionals should note verifying someone’s first language is in line with the commitment to delivering great healthcare.

Be aware that an indigenous language may be a party’s first language. For example, a patient from Mexico does not necessarily speak Spanish as their first language. Nahuatl, Maya, Otomí, Mixteco, and several other indigenous languages are widely spoken as well.

In short, when providing medical translation services, confirming the most specific and appropriate language, while considering your constraints of budget, time and accessibility, goes a long way toward ensuring great healthcare. It also can save all involved parties time, money, headaches and potentially other aches too!

Providing Context

Once you’ve made the decision to book medical translation services, more information needs to be gathered and provided beyond the appropriate languages or dialects. Providers of language services love context. So what information should be provided ahead of a medical translation? Read on.

Specificity for quality’s sake

Specificity helps translators ensure parties get the best medical information and care. Unfortunately, it’s important to remember that someone who needs medical translation services is sometimes receiving a limited amount of medical information. The documents may be all the information they receive.

Medical providers are doing a better job of integrating medical interpretation and language services into each interaction. However, patients cannot always ask for clarification beyond the translation. Therefore, being specific and explicative in the original medical documents delivers better healthcare.

Wouldn’t you want documents about your child’s surgery abroad to be detailed?

Complying with HIPAA

With a medical translation, HIPAA compliance matters. Gathering and providing information only on a need-to-know basis is important. However, the “minimum-necessary guideline” can still be adhered to because most of the information that needs transferring is the context for when and how the medical documents will be read and used. It’s usually not necessary to dig much deeper into a patient’s medical history. Likewise, experienced medical translators understand patient confidentiality. They committed to HIPAA compliance.

Overall, providing detailed text for translation, to ensure the recipient fully understands, helps immensely. In other environments, like pharmaceutical companies or clinical research organizations, translated documents need to be immensely precise. Ambiguity is the enemy of a good translation.

Other Resources

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