Errors in Medical Translation Can be a Real Pain

In every translation situation, the best translation is the one that is not only correct, but is adapted to the language of the person who is going to be reading it. This sort of translation is not a word for word or literal translation, but one where the language is adapted to the potential reader. Translation is however not completely homogenous in nature. In medical translation, for instance, accuracy is the number one priority. Medical translation needs to be not only 100 percent correct but easily understood by the end user.

Medical Translations are More Widespread Today

More and more people are now living in countries where the native language is not their own. There are different categories of migrants, ranging from those who have adopted a new home due to their skills being in demand, to others who are asylum seekers or refugees and who have fled their native home because of war or persecution. Some migrants may have attained fluency in the language of the country they have been accepted to work or live in, while others may have limited proficiency in the language of their host country. This means there are vast challenges when it comes to translating vital medical information so that everyone can understand.

The sorts of medical translation tasks include:

  • drug dosage information;
  • directions for use of medications;
  • adverse effects of medications;
  • side effects of drugs;
  • medical instrument manuals;
  • use of medical equipment like a blood pressure monitor.

Willie Ramirez – A Case Study of a Serious Medical Translation Error

Willie Ramirez was a typical Latin American migrant who was rushed off to a hospital in southern Florida in the U.S. in a coma. The family was questioned on his recent eating and drinking activities. None of the family could speak fluent English.  They kept repeating the Spanish word “intoxicado” throughout the questioning when talking about Ramirez. In Spanish, this word had a specific meaning. It meant that something that was not altogether nice had been eaten.

However, the health professional in charge of diagnosing Ramirez thought that the comatose patient was “intoxicated” from drinking too much. He decided that the best treatment was to do nothing and allow Ramirez to get over his “intoxication” naturally. Later on, as the symptoms persisted, the doctor eventually diagnosed bleeding in the brain. But it was already far too late. The victim suffered brain damage which was enough to end up with the victim becoming a quadriplegic.

Family Members Often Translate

It’s not uncommon for medical professionals to choose suitable family members to undertake translations on behalf of patients who are not fluent enough in the language to understand more complex language that needs to be translated. Medical translation errors often take place when a translator, who is a relative, performs the task and ends up giving incorrect details. This sort of situation has led to hospitals ensuring a professional translator or interpreter is available to perform medical translations.

Phone Translators Aren’t Necessarily Trained

Amateur translation or interpretation doesn’t always work, as not all languages can be accounted for, so a doctor or medical practitioner may turn to an interpreter by phone, who can quickly provide a translation in a range of languages. However, a medical translation requires knowledge of medical terminology that the average translator may not know. This could lead to a dangerous inaccurate medical translation which could endanger a person’s life.

In some situations, at least in the United States, up to 20% of patients need an interpreter. Most prefer one that involves a face to face encounter and not a phone interpreter.  This is because a live interpreter can use the behaviour of the patient to help describe their situation far more realistically and come out with an accurate translation of the situation. In many places, the range of languages needed for a translation changes rapidly, meaning it takes time for the medical facilities to meet these ever changing demands.

Shortage of Medical Translators Available in the United States

In the state of Oregon, in the United States, there are 3,500 medical translator/ interpreters qualified to do a translation job, but out of that number only 100 of them really have the qualifications to do an accurate medical translation.  This means the medical industry has no certainty that a medical translation will be accurate. Any errors in a medical translation, like the directions for use of a prescription drug, could end up with the victim being hospitalised. The wrong dosage might be mistranslated, at the wrong frequency, or even an adverse drug reaction might be experienced because the drug had been used concurrently with a second drug resulting in an avoidable illness.

In 2012, a study carried out by the American College of Emergency Physicians took a look at interpreter/translator mistakes that had serious clinical outcomes and discovered that the incidence of errors was far less for a professionally qualified translator than for one chosen off the street. For those who had at least 100 hours of medical translator training, mistakes fell by 2 percent.

This proves there is a good reason to use a professionally qualified medical translator to ensure all people understand what they need to know.

Author Bio : – Alison Williams

My interest in writing became important to me in 2001 after I gained an MA in Applied Linguistics and I started to move into writing as a means of securing an income. I have since then specialised in writing blog posts and web pages for a variety of clients including those in the legal and translation niches. I have built up the ability as a highly skilled writer to communicate with a variety of audiences and in an array of styles and formats. Over the past few years, I have worked with executives, entrepreneurs, industry experts and many other professionals in writing and publishing, SEO web content, blogs, newspaper articles and more.

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