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10 Facts You Need To Know If You Want To Translate Medical Texts

So you need to acquire a new reliable partner at your company to translate your content into various languages.

You had an urgent operation while abroad and you need to translate your medical files into French.

You are managing clinical research and you need to translate some questionnaires about drug outcomes into other languages.

This is just a small example of numerous situations in which people need serious, high-quality translation outcomes.

I recommend you read this article carefully as it will try to help you understand the facts you need to know before acquiring a medical translation.

Fact 1: Medical Translation Is a totally separate field of translation.

Although its name might suggest that it is a sub-field in translation, medical translation is a separate field in the translation industry. Medical translation is a separate entity as it is a highly regulated field and it needs specific qualifications and thus is labeled as a separate field most of the time, even among not specialized translation agencies.

Fact 2: Most Translation agencies actually aren’t capable to translate medical texts.

Although most agencies provide the service, in fact, as this field is highly specialized, you need a specialized translation agency specialized only in medical translations. Usually, such a process needs highly specialized translators and reviewers, dedicated to this field exclusively, furthermore, they need to have actual medical experts aboard to check the outcomes from the expert’s point of view. Such requirements make it impossible for general translation companies to compile with, thus, they either provide lower quality or outsource such works.

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Fact 3: The process to translate medical texts is different.

Depending on the text, medical translation is quite different from any other field of translation. Text migration is tightly controlled when migrating one source text from one language to another, or from one country to another, the first challenge is to produce a text that is similar to the original text. Controlling the proper migration is done by several methods, one of which is a backward translation of the whole translated text and then performing a discussion between the project managers and linguistic experts. Another control tool is an additional review performed by a local medical doctor that speaks both the source and target languages and is familiar with the medical language in the targeted country.

Fact 4: There are many sub-fields in medical translations.

Medical translation is a very wide field that includes medical journal articles, medical educational content, pharmaceutical research, Pharma drug support services, clinical trials, doctor-to-patient communication, medical-legal documents, and communication and medical devices. Having said that, experts in each and every subfield are needed as some fields can be quite different. We know today that medical specialties are studied separately in most of the world, thus ophthalmology is a totally different education than internal medicine and needs longer and different professional educational time. High-quality translation agencies specialized in medical translations must have specialists in those unique subfields to be able to deliver proper products.

Fact 5: Actually, some subfields in medical translation have specific regulations.

For example, if we deal with clinical trials or drug approval comities, we will meet these regulations. They require specific procedures to be performed within the process of translation. One of them, as stated above is backward translation. Furthermore, medical device translation is to be performed by ISO 13485 the certified agency, an ISO standard used by internal and external parties, such as certification bodies, to help the design be used by organizations involved in the design, production, installation, and servicing of medical devices and related services. It can also help with their auditing processes.

Fact 6: Besides language experts, other experts are needed aboard.

Depending on the subfield, further experts are usually needed to be able to properly review, supervise and control the translation process. In order to make this point clearer I will give some examples:

In case you want to translate a patient questionnaire into German, you will need, besides German linguistic experts, a German clinician to clinically approve the translation, you will need a German linguistic interviewer to perform interviews with some potential subjects to this questionnaire. This is called a cognitive debriefing interview and it is used to approve the actual understanding of the translation by the relevant population. Other participants that might be needed are specific medical specialists (cardiologists, psychiatrists, etc.), other para-medical professionals, pharmacists, law experts, and more.

Fact 7: There are special medical dictionaries needed to be used while performing the medical translation.

As no translation is perfect, even good medically trained and updated professionals need to have at their disposal the most useful medical dictionaries. They will most probably need them while performing the translation, every language has an official language committee that decides what will translation of terms be. The medical field is among the most rapidly changing fields, new technologies and therapies emerge every day and thus new terms and dictionaries are needed. Linguistic experts need to have the newest dictionaries to be able to implement the changes into the relevant language.

Fact 8: Don’t buy cheap! Good medical translation is usually more expensive than any other translation.

This fact is a very important one, in case you are acquiring a translation In the medical field or any medical-related field, do yourself a favor and don’t look for the cheapest solutions. In case you want to choose the most economical solution, you will fall into the wrong group of translation companies that offer very low-quality cheap outcomes. While such outcomes can be later amended in any other field, in the field of medicine, Pharma, and medical research, the damage can be unrepairable. Because the medical translation process includes many steps, much more professionals are involved, and sometimes, there are some additional regulatory expenses.

Usually, the cost of a proper medical translation varies between 0.1 USD per word to 0.2 USD per word, depending on the language pair and the services included.

Fact 9: It’s not easy to find the proper medical translation provider

Good medical translation experts are difficult to find since it’s a highly qualified group of experts. They prefer to work with companies that offer them jobs that suit their high qualifications and their field of expertise. Since most translation companies work in many other fields and don’t offer stable work for them, this kind of expert prefers to work with a small number of specialized providers.

Fact 10: To properly Translate medical texts you need time!

While a normal translator can translate about 3 thousand words a day, a professional medical translator might be able to translate only half of this quantity in a day. This is mainly because of the high level of control, and attention to detail that is needed and also the professional medical challenge in terminology and other aspects.

The other side of this fact is that it takes a lot of time to become a professional medical translator, usually, about 10 years of specialization in translation in a certain medical field is needed, besides an additional medical or medical-related degree usually is required to master the field.

Eventually, in case you are searching for a high-quality outcome, don’t rush. Think about your choices and make sure you are getting the best possible quality for your money. Furthermore, remember that you need a reliable partner on this project as any mistakes might carry with them unpleasant consequences.


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