Updated: Nov 24, 2019
We have probably all heard by now of the unfortunate consequences and horror stories of how the misreading or misinterpreting of a word, phrase, or specific medical term caused a patient to suffer or go through needless medical procedures.Unfortunately, "the art of translation," like most art forms, can be a knotty one. Medical translation is particularly one of those areas that has its own nuances and jargon, which makes this area of translation challenging -- even for the most seasoned translator -- and why buyers of professional translation services should practice due diligence when purchasing medical translation services from a translation company or freelance translator. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you, that medical translation isn't for everyone. It is, perhaps, one of the most arduous sub-fields within the translation profession. There are times when I can breeze through several paragraphs of material, yet find myself puzzled for about thirty minutes on a specific word or phrase important to the entire text. That is why when choosing a translation services company, or freelance translator, it is important to practice due diligence, due your homework, and understand that not every language service provider or professional translator is qualified or fit to translate a medical report diagnosing a patient's condition, a highly technical white paper on medical devices or a medical journal discussing the features of complex multi-cellular organisms.
Not All Translators Are Alike.
It is important that I stress to everyone reading this, the importance of understanding that, exactly in the same manner that not all doctors are neurosurgeons or pediatricians and, therefore, not qualified to handle every case, not every translator will be able to translate anything and everything that comes their way. This caveat may also include other bilingual professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers, who, for any number of reasons, might also work as translators or interpreters. In other words, not every bilingual doctor or lawyer can translate material that is familiar to them in one language unless they have put all that knowledge and information to use while utilizing their secondary language.
Rates, Fees, and Other Monetary Considerations.
A couple of other points to take into consideration are, of course, the rates and fees associated with having your document translated. Though there is no direct correlation between the price you pay and the quality of the translation, pay too little, and you might end up with a case of buyer's remorse, and a translation that is of no use for your intended audience. Pay too much, and you might learn later down the road that you could have saved a significant amount compared to what you paid. However, medical translations are a specialized field within the translation profession -- so -- be prepared to pay a reasonably higher price for the service. which may include translation, proofreading, editing, revision, and quality control services. It's a good idea to ask the translator or project manager that will be handling the translation what comes included with the price that is quoted.
Fortunately, there are various sources where buyers of translation services can go to collect information before entrusting their valuable work to someone who might not be best suited for the task at hand. Of course, as with most things in life, these suggestions do not come foolproof, but will help minimize the potential for major risks in terms of monetary damage, or significant hit to your reputation and credibility.
A first option is to go to atanet.org to reach The American Translators Association (ATA), or cttic.org to reach the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council (CTTIC), if you are reading this and reside in Canada. Both of these organizations are professional associations where you will find a huge network of translators and interpreters. both websites allow users to lookup translators by language combination. The CCTIC adds a couple of extra steps by categorizing translators and interpreters based on province and then certified and associate members.
Another excellent source for finding translation companies, as well as qualified, professional translators is Proz.com. This site, known as "Proz" (rhymes with Pros) to those in the translation industry, is a website dedicated to the translation profession. Proz manages one of the largest databases of translation companies and freelance translators located throughout most, if not the entire world.
This valuable database helps finding professional help by allowing anyone, including buyers of translation services, to perform a general search, and perusing the profiles of every company and translator on the database, or by conducting a more detailed search, using their advanced features and entering specific keywords in the box, or selecting specific areas and fields of expertise to further narrow down the user's search to get more accurate results.This valuable database helps finding professional help by allowing anyone, including buyers of translation services, to perform a general search, and perusing the profiles of every company and translator on the database, or by conducting a more detailed search, using their advanced features and entering specific keywords in the box, or selecting specific areas and fields of expertise to further narrow down the user's search to get more accurate results.
Another site, similar to Proz,com, is Translatorscafe.com. Translatorscafe allows users to search for translators or translation companies (also known as Translation Agencies) separately. It also includes advanced search features that allow users to narrow their search according to keyword, language, type of agency (e.g. full service, educational, localization, etc).
Searching for Medical Translators on the Web.A third option, which might require more time for researching and information gathering, but perhaps preferred by some, entails carrying out a search using your favorite web browser and search engine entering keywords into the search box significant to your search, such as "medical translation company," "medical translator," "translation companies specializing in medical translations" or a number of similar keywords. Most people searching for any number of services, including translation services, usually just enter general terms which might not yield the results they are looking for. I must warn you, however, not every web browser or search engine will produce the same results, as your web browser or search engine may be customized according to your personal preferences which can have a slight effect on the outcome of the results you receive, including your location, (or where your browser indicates you're searching from), and to a lesser degree, the search engine you use, and when you use it, as it might undergo algorithmic modifications, thereby slightly altering results based on these conditions.
Word of Mouth
Perhaps you might know someone who knows of translator or company that specializes in medical translations. Friends, family, and colleagues can be an obvious and important but often underutilized source of information. It may be that someone you know might have acquired the services of a professional translator at some point and was pleased with the results, and therefore, might be happy to share that information with you. It's always a good idea to hang around and make use of networks where translators and companies are usually found.
Conclusion & Final Thoughts Regrettably, there are too many stories and noted cases where the lack of a professional translation caused a misdiagnosis or grave misunderstanding among doctors, nurses and patients, thereby confusing the needs and true nature of a patient's medical condition, as well as a significant increase in the potential for the misuse of medical instruments, as a result of complicated instructions that were not properly translated from language A to language B.
If after reading this, you're still a little confused, or still not sure as to how to go about conducting your search for a qualified professional who will be able to successfully translate your medical report, white paper, or device specifications, just remember that due diligence, some earnest research and a small bit of hard work go a long way, especially when dealing with the lives of your patient, or the assets of your hospital, medical practice, or technology company.