3 Common Medical Translation Pitfalls And How to Avoid Them

March 23, 2022

Patients always rely on hospitals to provide excellent treatment from routine checkups to medical emergencies. To ensure the highest quality care, medical professionals must be able to communicate with their patients with the utmost efficiency and accuracy. Healthcare often includes more nuanced conversations that cross cultural boundaries in addition to linguistic ones. Therefore, interpreters need to express the spirit of a medical professional’s verbal instructions rather than literal translation.

There are a few common medical translation pitfalls healthcare organizations are likely to make if they do not hire the right experts for the job. Here, we’ll examine those most frequent mistakes so you can improve patient satisfaction ratings, and drive down hospital readmission rates.

Medical Translation Pitfalls

Read more: 5 Biggest Challenges Faced by Translators

1. Depending on Translation by Medical Professionals 

Healthcare institutions that are pressed for qualified translators and interpreters may turn to medical professionals for assistance. Although multilingual nurses and physicians are an important asset to the team, organizations should consider many concerns when counting on medical professionals for medical translation. 

For one, healthcare professionals lack the proper translation and interpreting credentials in the form of certification. Doctors and nurses may comfort to engage in casual conversation with a patient, but there must be a clear line between informal and professional translation solutions in a medical setting. After all, misinterpretations can result in several serious medical errors.

Another pitfall happens when physicians spend too much time on translating, which prevents them from meeting, diagnosing, and treating new patients. This inefficiency in healthcare workflow reduces the quality of patients’ overall medical care. The misappropriation of translation services can have effects on a hospital’s ability to provide the best care.

2. Using Outdated Medical Translation

Language changes continuously, and so is the type of terminology used in the medical field. Experts are always looking for the most accurate language to describe the diagnosis and medical conditions, given discoveries and research in healthcare. Interpreters in the medical field must keep updated with these regular developments so they can bring the most accurate, relevant, and recent interpretations.

There’s often a concern that staff will use obsolete or near-obsolete terms to describe patients’ conditions, which could cause confusion. The fallout from mistranslating or misrepresenting diseases and medical conditions can be devastating to a patient and their providers. 

Patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) who do not receive accurate translations of a physical diagnosis will not receive the same benefits of top-quality care. This can be costly, inefficient, and in worst-case scenarios, deadly. Inaccurate translations can lead to higher readmission rates, which in turn typically lead to poor patient outcomes.

3. Opting for Free, Incomplete Shortcuts

If they do not rely on medical staff to provide medical translations, chances as they tend to use cheaper tools. For example, nearly all healthcare organizations often use automated translation services. Unfortunately, these band-aid solutions such as Google Translate do not provide adequate translation services in the medical field, especially when patient scenarios demand more complete and nuanced interpretation solutions. The primary concern is that piecemeal responses result in efficiencies that ultimately require redundant quality assurance. 

In healthcare settings, human translators who can refer to subject matter experts (SMEs) for industry knowledge are the preferred candidates. Tone, dialect, and cultural norms are much easier to express in human-to-human interaction, without a language AI standing in between. 

How to Prevent Medical Translation Mistakes

Choosing the right language translation solution for your healthcare organization doesn’t have to be daunting or challenging. In fact, there are many resources to support patients of all linguistic backgrounds receive the care and communication they want. 

Wise-Concetti provides medical translation by professional linguists who have many years of experience. Discover how you can improve your services by finding out more about the translation, and localization services Wise-Concetti offers. 



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