Medical translation

Medical Translation: One Sector where there’s no Room for Error

Professional medical translation is a service that has the potential to save lives and improve the quality of care patients receive throughout the world. The accurate translation of…

  • research papers
  • medical devices
  • medical packaging and labels
  • technical documentation and user guides
  • patent applications
  • medical software
  • & test procedures

…can break down barriers between doctors and patients and make sure as many people as possible have access to the healthcare they need. However, medical translation is one area where accuracy is of the utmost importance. Medical documents can be difficult to translate, and an intimate understanding of medical language and terminology is essential to create a translation that can be relied upon.

The cost of botched medical translations, as you’re going to see, can be huge, both for the patients involved and the organisations providing the care. Although controlling costs is at the forefront of many people’s minds these days, this is one area where you cannot cut corners.

1. An expensive medical translation mistake

One of the most expensive medical translation mistakes ever made involved the case of Willie Ramirez, who had developed a sudden headache when out with friends. He was rushed to the hospital where his Cuban parents explained that he was “intoxicado”. Unfortunately, the emergency room doctors believed this meant he had taken a drug overdose and subsequently treated him as such.

In reality, Willie Ramirez had a brain haemorrhage, but the translation mistake meant he did not receive the treatment he needed. Sadly, the bleed on the brain left Willie paralysed for life. The hospital, which was obliged to provide a professional interpreter, is now liable for approximately $71million to pay for Willie’s treatment for life.

2. Botched knee replacement surgery

Thankfully, not all medical translation mistakes are quite so catastrophic, but most people would still prefer to avoid repeat knee replacement surgery if possible. In Germany in 2007, an error made when translating a label on a package of knee prostheses from its source language resulted in 47 failed knee surgeries.

The source label said ‘non-modular cemented’, but this was mistakenly translated to ‘without cement’. What seems like a tiny mistake led to a repeat procedure for all those patients.

3. The case of the missing kidney

Another needless and expensive mistake occurred in California in 2010, when a community hospital operated on a Spanish-speaking patient called Francisco Torres. The operation was supposed to remove Mr Torres’s diseased kidney, but when signing the consent form written in English, Mr Torres did not realise the hospital planned to remove the wrong kidney.

As he did not speak English and was not provided with a translated consent form or an interpreter, the wrong kidney was removed. Thankfully, the hospital realised the mistake and was able to remove the diseased kidney, but that did not stop them receiving an expensive financial penalty for failing to communicate properly with the patient.

The help you need to get it right

These cautionary tales provide clear evidence of why only word-perfect medical translations will do. At Linguistica International, we work with pre-defined translation glossaries and terminology to correctly adapt translations to industry or company-specific language. We also only use mother-tongue translators with experience in the medical sector to make sure we get it right.

To find out more, please email or call 02392 987 765 today.



5 Tantalising Translation Tales from around the Web

Welcome again to that time of the month when we delve into the world of translation (that’s right, we have a good look online) to bring you five of the most tantalising tales from around the web. And this month, do we have a treat for you, with translation titbits ranging from bad menu translations to musings about whether the edibility of snails is all in the name.

So without further ado, let’s get cracking…

1. Is it an escargot or just a muddy snail?

What better place to start than with the revelation that snails covered in garlic might not actually be as tasty as we think. According to a new study, English-speaking diners are more likely to eat snails if they are described as ‘escargots’ on the menu. And apparently, that’s not because they think escargot is the French for prawn cocktail. Research from the University of Chicago found that using a foreign word to describe food people may otherwise have an aversion to makes them more likely to eat it.

On that basis, all we need to know is the French for ratatouille and we’re good to go!

2. Music transcends language

Now there’s proof that different types of music from around the world are identifiable based on their melody alone. The Harvard study found that listeners were able to identify dance songs, lullabies and healing songs without language cues. The only songs that depend on language to get their meaning across are love songs. The researchers speculate that this is because there aren’t specific sounds associated with love songs. What makes a piece of music a love song is the words being used.

3. Harry Potter in Scots

This is the wonderful news that that wee wizard Harry Potter has now been ‘translated’ into Scots. The entirety of the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, has been translated into the Scots language, which is not to be confused with Scottish Gaelic.

The first chapter, The Boy Who Lived, has now become ‘The Laddie Wha Lived’. Here’s a little teaser:

‘Mrs Dursley wis a skinnymalinkie, blonde-heidit wummin whase craigie wis jist aboot twice as lang as ither fowks, which wis awfie haundy as she spent sae muckle time keekin ower gairden fences, nebbin at the neebors.’

If you need more Scots Harry Potter in your life, you can see more here and even buy your own copy of the Scots edition on Amazon.

4. How to design for translation

Layout issues are common for many businesses when translating online and offline assets. Different languages can require more or less space, while text direction, alignment and the use of completely different alphabets can also cause problems. Software issues are another factor to consider, with multilingual typesetting often requiring special software or plugins, particularly for non-western scripts. Here are some helpful tips.

5. Bad menu translation

If you’re looking for a reliable source of translation mistakes, then menus in foreign restaurants provide rich pickings. These are some of the best. For a more comprehensive look at why so many food translations are so inaccurate and unappetising, take a look at this article from a professional culinary translator.

Are there any translation stories we’ve missed that deserve a mention? Get in touch on Facebook or share your spots with our readers in the comments below.