What is important to consider when translating medical documents?

Medical documents translation

A separate field of linguistic activity is the translation of medical texts. It requires specialist knowledge of terminology as well as knowledge of the medical field. This field differs from conventional scientific or technical translation. Common terms work here, those most often having Greek or Latin roots, as well as national names for diseases. In China, for example, not only international designations are used, but also traditional ones. This makes the work of translators in this field very difficult.

Features of medical translations

The translation of medical texts involves:

The need for correct transcription of abbreviations and acronyms.
Maximum accuracy (virtually verbatim) and completeness of the presentation of the material in the original text.
The use of International anatomical nomenclature. And translators sometimes need to use not only the latest editions, but also those that were approved earlier – it all depends on what text he works with.

However, even experienced translators may encounter some difficulties. For example, there are units of measurement. Different countries have different rules. In Russia, for example, the haemoglobin level in a blood test is measured in grams per litre, while in English-speaking countries it is measured in grams per deciliter. The translator has to translate to the correct unit of measurement or choose another option, which is more familiar to the Russian-speaking reader.

Another problem is the homonymy that occurs in medical documents. The context is very important, because AC can stand for aortic stenosis or ankylosing spondyloarthritis, which are two fundamentally different diseases. As with other translations, there are so-called ‘false friends’, the same sound in different languages but different meanings.

There are other nuances that need to be clarified. For instance, in Spanish, the word “intoxicado” does not simply mean poisoning, but intoxication due to external factors, while in Russian and English, it is used to refer to alcohol or drugs. An interpreter error in Florida resulted in a misdiagnosis and cost the clinic more than $70 million in compensation. Therefore, interpreters often consult doctors if they lack the expertise to understand the context.

Requirements for translators in the medical field

Our translation company works with experienced specialists who specialise in the fields of medicine and pharmacology. They know not only “live” foreign languages but also “dead” languages such as Latin and Greek, at least to the extent necessary to adapt medical documentation. People who work on translating medical texts must have an understanding of chemistry, pharmacology, biology.

What is required from the translators is a high level of erudition, immersion in the subject area (all changes must be tracked), as well as the ability to maintain confidentiality. After all, when translating documents the translators get access to personal information about a citizen’s health status, etc. Translating a medical text is in some ways akin to consulting a doctor. Therefore, it has to be treated accordingly.

A medical translation is always a great responsibility. It requires great accuracy and the ability to cope with negative information. Reading medical texts is not for hypochondriacs and hypochondriacs. Moreover, in the process of translating one actually receives a lot of negative information (data on the epidemiological situation, other people’s diagnoses, statistics on cancer). Therefore, the interpreter must be able to cope with such stress.

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