When approaching this question, we need to look at the origin of medical translations and medical texts. What is a medical text, how many varieties of medical texts are there, and what is the difference between them?
General educational medical content
In this category, we will include general forums, health education sections in newspapers or websites, and so on. This content is simpler, and its goal is to educate the general population and discuss private or public health issues, it is usually provided free of charge and its regulations are looser than for other medical texts. An example of such medical content can be seen in a local newspaper, Facebook, and many social forums. This category includes a lot of disinformation and mistaken translations and it is one of the most challenging categories to handle as these platforms don’t take responsibility for the spread of wrong data. We can see the groups that are opposed to childhood vaccinations and how they have been able to raise a lot of disinformation among people with such medical content. Such groups have widespread in the world and there is a common duty of medical professionals and medical translators to make the correct data available to all populations, besides proper regulation.
Reviewed general educational medical content
In this category we find famous websites on the web, like Wikipedia and Webmed, these websites usually have some professional authors and medical reviewers, having said that, usually, the translated contents from English to other languages in Wikipedia, for example, are not professionally reviewed and lack a lot of parts, sections and contain a lot of mistakes, disinformation and eventually big gaps between language speakers.
The problem is that translating such content professionally will cost a lot of money and it’s one of the real challenges of medical translations nowadays which should provide the same level and quality of information to all people.
Another part of this category is educational leaflets, brochures, and reports aimed at the general public, organizations like the WHO (world health organization), UN (United Nations), and EU, governments, and organizations already provide some parts of such content, these contents are very important as they educate the public about major health issues such as epidemics (Flu, Ebola, HIV, Measles, etc), primary prevention techniques (like breast cancer prevention and colorectal cancer prevention) and newly available therapies for diseases. These contents are usually translated and reviewed, hopefully with good quality.
Professional educational medical contents
In this category we have official medical literature, medical research, clinical trials, and journals, these contents need the highest capabilities to translate, and the process is complicated as the language is highly specialized and is used only by medical specialists. Many times such content can be properly translated only by local medical doctors with a review by a board of local doctors. Most translation agencies don’t have the capabilities to translate specialized medical books or clinical research journals as they need to have a very specific specialist on board.
Medical treatment and therapies
Many medical doctors have to provide patients an informed consent in their mother tongue, before undergoing therapy, joining a clinical trial, or even before undergoing an operation, these consents must be translated properly by experts, and the documents that provide the proper information regarding the therapies must be translated as well in order to provide the legally proper amount of information to be legally eligible to sign the documents. In this category of medical translations, we can see various services provided by clinics, private doctors, and hospitals starting from signing a release form or admission form at a hospital, signing an informed consent before undergoing a Hysteroscopy, or sing a consent to participate in stage three clinical trial for an innovative drug treatment for melanoma.
One of the biggest markets of medical translation is pharmaceutical corporations, this market is also the most regulated one as texts can be very important here.
Why does the pharmaceutical industry need translations?
As a global industry, every product needs to fulfill the local legal regulations for pharmaceutical products and research.
Among the documents for translation in the pharmaceutical industry are: leaflets, case report forms, clinical trial protocols, drug package inserts, informed consent forms, new drug applications, material safety sheets, patents, drug leaflets, standard operating procedures for pharmaceutical companies, investigative new drug applications and the list is long.
This field is legally regulated, needs a very loyal and precise procedure and in many cases, the cooperation between the sides is restricted by big legal contracts.