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.