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Translation for the Medical Sector

Translation for the Medical Sector has zero margin for error

In 2007, in Germany, someone made a seemingly minor error when translating the label on a package of knee prostheses. This resulted in 47 failed knee surgeries. The original (source language) label said “non-modular cemented”, however this was translated as “without cement”. Knee surgery is extremely painful and requires months of recovery. In addition, as you can imagine, the legal and financial implications of this error were considerable. This is just one example of why translation for the medical sector has zero margin for error.

“Two different types of that knee prosthesis are available — for use with or without cement. The source- language label on the package of the prosthesis included the information that the femoral component was “non-modular cemented,” which was incorrectly translated as “non-cemented” or “without cement” (Fakler et al. 2007: 1). For over 12 months, medical professionals who performed or assisted in the operations were unaware of the fact that prosthesis elements had not been implanted in the correct manner.”

The Journal of Specialised Translation

Also of concern are false friends: Some examples of these include drug vs droga — in Spanish, drogas are medicine, rather than illegal drugs as commonly implied in English. Or abortion vs aborto — in Spanish aborto refers to a a miscarriage, not an intentionally aborted foetus.

Multilingual documentation

That said, multilingual documentation is essential in one of the most tightly-legislated industries in the world. Translation may be required at any level, including clinical research, regulatory submission and review, production and marketing.

In Europe, expansion of the EU is also driving increased demand for medical and pharmaceutical translation services. In EU member states, in addition to the requirements of the country’s own drug regulatory authority, companies must also meet the requirements of the European Medicines Agency (EMEA).

For more on regulatory processes and requirements: Translating for the Pharmaceutical Industry

Medical texts are a vital link in the communication chain between healthcare givers and their patients; as well as between regulatory bodies and local health centres. It’s crucial that documents presented by one party can be read and understood by the other when there isn’t a common language. With medical translations, precision is a must, a translator cannot omit, substitute, or add anything that wasn’t in the original source text. Any incorrect word or phrase could cause complications.

Key requirements for a medical translator

  • Qualifications: A specialised medical translator should have medical qualifications — it seems obvious. And many medical translators are specialists or a general practitioners. This will ensure your translator has the necessary experience, and is familiar with the subject they are translating.
  • Experience: Be sure the translator has a solid grasp of ethical issues, is knowledgeable in anatomy and physiology, and has a good understanding of general medical terms, and their implications.
  • Professionalism: All professional translators should be proficient in both languages, and a native speaker of the target language (ie. the language they are translating into). Also, while most translators use computer-assisted translation (CAT tools) in their translation process, there are some that rely solely on manual efforts. Using a CAT tools and a Translation Memory is usually faster, as well as ensuring greater accuracy and fluency. 

At QuickSilver Translate, we offer specialised translation services for the medical sector, using qualified, professional translators, with experience and expert knowledge in the topics they translate.

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