Medical Translation Services, Its Nuances and Importance

Medical translation is the process of construing medical text and literature into an intelligible rendition that the recipient can easily grasp or understand. It involves reproducing medical literature in a more lucid, user- friendly language without losing the medical nuances that the text carries. Certified language translation may also be required in this process to ensure the messaging can be understood by individuals with a first language that isn’t English.

The purpose of medical translation is to ensure a complete and thorough dissemination of information in a manner that is easily understandable by the recipients of such information. It is premised on the assumption that the consumers of the medical information in question might not be well versed in English or the medical field for that matter. For this reason, it is necessary to ensure that the end product communicates the original message fully.

Material that can be medically translated includes medical bulletins, drug information, drug data sheets, information on medical devices and processes, patients’ records, medical terminologies and medical training materials.

Qualifications of a medical translator

Given that medical matters often mean the difference between life and death, it is of critical importance that the translation is done with utmost precision and accuracy. It therefore goes without say, that the medical translator must be proficient in both the language the medical text is written in as well as the language in which the literature is to be translated. Not only that, in order to be licensed, the translator must furnish proof of their proficiency in English (native or near- native level)

In addition to linguistic skills, the medical translator is also required to have technical knowledge of the area covered by the literature. In fact, one of the qualities of a good translator include a thorough understanding of the medical process concerned. Consequently, in some jurisdictions, medical translators are required to be well versed with the local legislation concerning the medical area they intend to dwell on. 

That said, medical translation is not a one-man show. Again, owing to the sensitive nature of medical information, medical translation is often the preserve of licensed companies and agencies. The following are the international standards that medical translation companies and agencies must comply with:

  • EN 15038-This is also known as the European standard for translation vendor quality (Translation-quality standards)
  • ISO 9001- Which stands for the quality system standard
  • ISO 13485- Which is the generally accepted overarching standard for medical device manufacture

The medical translation processes

You may be a pharmaceutical company, or a government institution seeking information about medical equipment your country seeks to purchase, are or perhaps you a hospital yearning for greater understanding about some particular clinical trial and its impact, the list is endless. Bottomline is, you are a client who’s come to the realization that you need medical translation services. So, what next?

The medical translation process can be summarized in five key stages:

  • Extraction

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the first stage is also known as the ‘forward translation’ stage, which involves conceptual rather than literal translation. Here, an individual translator, who is a health professional, is instructed to translate the medical concept as contained in the original text into the language used by the target audience. It is critical that the concept in original text (which is often in English) is never lost in transition.

  • Translation

The matter is then forwarded to a bilingual expert panel. It will be interesting to note that the individual translator is also a member of this panel. Jointly, they scrutinize the wording and phraseology used in the conceptual translation to ensure that it captures all the nuances of the original concept. The panel then generates the first complete draft of the translated text.

  • Editing

The instrument by the panel is then given to an independent external translator, who does what is known as a ‘back translation.’ Here, the independent translator translates the instrument by the panel back into English. Of note however, is that back translation does not extend to the entire instrument. Rather, it is limited to sensitive conceptual points as identified by the WHO. In other words, it is focussed on critical areas whose translation has to have 100% accuracy.

  • Reviewing

The instrument is then presented to the target audience in the form of a questionnaire. The purpose of this exercise is to get an idea of what comes to the audience’s mind when they read the text. It also incorporates any suggestions that the audience may have with regard to particular phrases.

  • Publishing and documentation

The final instrument is then published and documented. This includes the translation history, a description of the huddles encountered along the way and the modifications adopted. This final publication is what is termed as the translated works.

Guest article written by: Evie Harrison

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