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Why medical translation is the most important of all language services

Translation mistakes can cost businesses huge amounts of money, destroy a brand’s reputation and even cause diplomatic crises between agitated countries – something we can appreciate with the numerous wars of words taking place around the world right now.

Naturally, most translation mistakes are relatively harmless although they can cause serious problems for brands operating in foreign-speaking markets. However, there are some areas where translation mistakes can never be tolerated and healthcare certainly falls into this category, where people’s lives and well-being are on the line.

Medical translation and zero tolerance

Above all, there’s zero tolerance for translation mistakes in medical sectors because lives are at stake. Mistakes have killed people in the past and they will continue to do so unless the highest quality of translation is demanded in every sector related to healthcare. This covers more ground than many people appreciate, just about every part of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry relies on perfect medical translation to operate.

Here are some key areas where medical translation is essential:

  • Documentation of medical equipment
  • Documentation of medicine and drugs
  • Translation of clinical trials and studies
  • Regulatory standards
  • Marketing material
  • Learning material
  • Labelling

Any time healthcare and pharmaceutical practices cross language barriers, medical translation is there to make sure everything is 100% understood. This counts for non-native healthcare staff working in medical facilities, trials of experimental drugs being translated for multiple countries and foreign-speaking patients reading the instructions for medication to ensure they take the correct amount, avoid overdosing and understand what to do if they react poorly to their medication.

The irreversible cost of medical translation mistakes

Medical translation mistakes are incredibly expensive and huge payouts tend to follow. However, the real impact is on the lives affected and in the worst cases, irreversible damage is caused which results in life-changing problems and even death.

It’s not nice to repeat unfortunate stories like this, but – in the hope they might prevent similar incidences happening again – they serve as an important reminder that there’s no place for translation errors in the medical sector.

The case of Willie Ramirez

Willie Ramirez was just 18 when he suddenly developed a serious headache while he was out with his friends and he lost consciousness before he could be taken to the hospital. The next time he woke up, he was paralysed after a brain bleed left him quadriplegic for life.

Sadly, his condition would have been treatable if there was a Spanish translator available when he arrived at hospital.

Instead, when Willie’s family told doctors they thought he was “intoxicado” (sick or poisoned by something consumed), he was treated for a drug overdose based on the assumption he was intoxicated.

Willie’s case resulted in $71 million in compensation being paid but a young man was sentenced to spending the rest of his life as a quadriplegic.

These are the kind of life-changing consequences that medical translation errors can cause and no amount of compensation can make up for the lives affected or lost by them. So, while quality translation is essential to any brand and organisation operating across language barriers, we’re quite confident saying that medical translation is the most important language service we provide.