How Errors in Medical Translations Can Destroy a Life
Medical translations are one of the most essential language services offered by translation agencies. Our health is precious to us, and medical document translation helps healthcare professionals and non-English-speaking patients communicate. It follows that translation errors can have life-threatening consequences, highlighting the importance of accurate medical translations in the accessibility and effectiveness of healthcare worldwide.
This article looks at the importance of medical translations in more detail and uncovers the risks of inaccurately translated content. We also take a look at some real-world examples and why with the growing demand for translations, translation errors are becoming more common than ever.
The Importance of Medical Translations
Imagine you are injured or sick and cannot communicate with the doctor. Consider what you would do if you woke up from surgery to discover that you had undergone the wrong procedure. While these scenarios might seem far-fetched, they are possible for many due to translation errors or inadequate medical document translation. In fact, millions of people worldwide face such scenarios.
Let’s take the US as an example. The US Census Bureau states that about 25 million Americans don’t speak English fluently. In 2003, half of the Californian doctors surveyed said they were aware of language barriers affecting the quality of care provided. Without a multilingual doctor or effective medical translations, these 25 million people may not receive the healthcare they deserve.
This makes more sense when understanding how doctors make medical diagnoses. Approximately 70% of the information doctors base their diagnosis on extracts from the patient’s physical exam and history. These two information sources require effective interpersonal communication. Thus, providing healthcare solutions requires proper communication in the medical field.
The bottom line reveals a sad truth: patients who communicate effectively with their healthcare providers tend to receive more effective treatments, while those that struggle due to language barriers are less likely to see success often. Medical translations are crucial and can help improve these communications, but only when performed accurately.
The Risks of Errors and Repercussions
When providing healthcare to patients that don’t speak English, the most effective solution is to have language service provider to handle the medical translations. However, this isn’t always available. The demand for medical document translation significantly outweighs the supply. In lieu of professional services, ad-hoc solutions like bilingual staff or family members are typically enlisted.
While this might seem to be the answer, it is another reason why those in need of medical treatment cannot get the care they need. Since these individuals are not professional translators, they cannot give accurate translations. Their language adaptations are often full of translation errors, and even fluent speakers will struggle with translating technical medical terminology.
In a healthcare setting, these mistakes have severe repercussions. In worst cases, using the wrong cultural context or word could lead to someone dying. Relying on children or family members of the patient to translate medical documents also raises various privacy and ethical concerns. The simple fact is that there is a dire need for accurate and reliable medical translations worldwide.
Examples of Medical Document Translation Mistakes
One of the most famous examples of translation errors is the tragic case of Willie Ramirez, a young baseball player taken to hospital in South Florida. On arrival at the hospital, his family stated he was “intoxicado”. “Intoxicado” is the Spanish term used for the adverse effects of anything ingested. Doctors used a strict translation and mistook Ramirez as intoxicated due to alcohol misuse.
Ramirez was actually dealing with a brain bleed that went undiagnosed for days, causing Ramirez to develop quadriplegia. This is a form of paralysis that affects the entire body. The hospital failed to have a translation agency that offers medical translation services on standby. As such, they were liable for around $71 million in a settlement.
Another high-profile failure of medical document translation happened in a French hospital. The French hospital’s incorrect English language software translation caused them to administer radiation overdoses to patients for a year. The hospital also had cases where patients wrongly underwent double mastectomies or had kidneys removed due to inaccurate medical translations.
Concerns with Healthcare Translation Demand
Every hospital needs a translation agency that provides accurate medical translations. Proper communication can sometimes be the difference between life and death, and translation errors are arguably more important to avoid in the healthcare industry than anywhere else.
Unfortunately, the demand for medical document translation is bound to rise, creating other scenarios like those mentioned above. Using non-professional translators is a viable option, but this carries several major issues. Non-professional translators are usually unaware of patient confidential agreements, uninformed of insurance and legal matters, and struggle with complex medical language.
Another solution is to supplement the lack of in-person translation by having a phone interpreter. This phone line helps make up for a shortage of bilingual staff. However, the most effective solution is to have trained professionals on hand. By having trained linguists perform medical translations, the risk associated with poor language translation is negated.
The Future of Medical Translation Services
Medical document translation has to be done as accurately as possible to avoid translation errors. Something as simple as a word being out of place or a sentence omitted could result in a severe loss of life. Furthermore, evidence has shown that increased efforts in providing medical translation services can result in lower readmissions. Increased access to this language service can also raise overall patient satisfaction. This, in turn, lowers the chance of catastrophic errors happening.
Therefore, hospitals and healthcare providers must find a way to balance the demand for medical translations with available professionals from translation agencies. With the ever-growing diversity of countries across the world, the future of global healthcare may deteriorate if communication issues and language barriers are not addressed.
Renaissance Translations’ Medical Translation Services
At Renaissance Translations, we know that translation errors can cause fatal disasters. For this reason, our language professionals are trained to translate medical documents with extra attention to detail. We have qualified translators in more than 120 languages with backgrounds in healthcare, able to easily translate the most complex medical terminology and diagnoses.
Our company is member of the Association of Translation Companies in England as well as SDL LSP Partner Programme. If you think we could be the medical translations provider you’ve been looking for, contact us to discuss your project today! Don’t guess a medical document translation and put a patient’s care at risk—use our service instead!