Do you need an expert to translate medical documents?


With over 244 million international migrants living around the world today and the recent worldwide outbreak of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) there is a rapidly growing need for certified translation services and medical records and other medical documents to be professionally translated.

It is important that health care professionals communicate effectively in order to treat patients.

Medical workers that speak a different language to their patients are at risk of mistreating patients because the medical history or complaint of the patient can be interpreted incorrectly or not understood at all.

It is a problem faced by medical practitioners all over the world.

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According to the United Nations, the number of people leaving their country of birth to live overseas has risen by 14% in 15 years.

The media report that Europe is besieged with “migrants and refugees.” Over one million asylum seekers arriving from Africa and the Middle-East flee to Europe with high hopes of a bright new future.

The recent events on the borders of Greece and Macedonia where hundreds of stranded asylum seekers from Syria clashed with police and were left needing medical treatment.

European companies are struggling to adopt migrants and more borders could be closed.

The UK alone has become the happy home of 8.3 million international clients and at some point they will need medical treatment.

Immigrants fleeing war torn countries, or who were victims of torture, may have developed psychological problems. Mental health issues can be debilitating to the quality of a person’s life.

On the other page of the migration story, there are over 1.2 million British-born retirees living in Europe, many of whom go for a slower pace of life in the Mediterranean.

According to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, expats rarely speak the language of the country they move to. The majority of locals do not speak a second language and it can be difficult to find a doctor that can understand their patient.

Complications can therefore arise between doctor and patient. If the medical expert cannot understand medical records, face-to-face consultations can become confusing.

Given the NHS paid £1.1 billion in compensation pay-offs for malpractice last year, the number of successful claims is encouraging for victims of medical blunders.

How easy will it be for medical practitioners to claim they are not negligent of administering the wrong treatment plan because they did not know the patient’s past medical history?

The complications of translating medical documents


It is understandable that medical records written in a foreign language can be mistranslated or miscommunicated. Translating medical reports is complicated.

Studies reveal that nearly all claims for medical malpractice filed by foreign nationals was the result of poor documentation due to the patient’s limited English proficiency.

With all the various paperwork and procedures involved in medical treatment, if the need for an interpreter is neglected, medical centres are at risk of medical negligence.

The medical institute, MDU advise medical professionals:

 Translation Services and Language Interpreting

The accurate translation of medical documents benefits the entire medical team and the patient. Both doctors and nurses will be better informed of the patient’s complaints and past health history.

The patient also benefits by having a better understanding of the treatment that is being administered. This will be useful in many aspects, whether it be informing the patient how often to take medication or simply discussing a treatment.

A basic requisite for medical practitioners is to translate a medical history, patient consent forms and post-discharge instructions.

It is recommended a competent interpreter is used when translating medical records. They should be a native of the language they are interpreting and have an academic or working background in medicine.

Past cases highlight that health care providers presume that people from the same ethnic background will share the same language so pair patients with non-native doctors.

It has been recorded that the lack of cohesion between dialects from root languages resulted in inaccurate medical records. This is particularly the case among Asians speaking Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese.

Further complications can arise if litigation is started. Medical reports, informed consent forms, pharmaceutical labels and other scientific reports are required to be disclosed in clinical trials.

Pharmaceutical companies in the UK and the US are feeling the heat. Even the Queen’s personal doctor, Sir Richard Thompson is calling for a public enquiry into the ingredients of drugs made by big pharm companies.

Many of the claimants are non-English speaking patients. “We didn’t make these drugs for Indians,” is not a defence, but the CEO of pharmaceutical lynchpin Bayer used it anyway.

Regulations for clinical trials stipulate the trial is held in the native language of both parties. Some of the medical forms are technical and should be translated by an expert.

Furthermore, rules state that the wording of the translated documents must be presented in standard level language.

Interpreters have to be capable of writing in such a basic way that a school child can understand. This can be difficult when attempting to explain a scientific or legal term in a way that is easy to grasp.

Why you should hire an expert to translate medical documents


Medical translation is a unique field. Practitioners need to have an academic qualification in medicine.

The medical and pharmaceutical industry is practically an industry of its own. Jargon is rife and can easily be misinterpreted.  Translating medical records involves examining notes written in shorthand as most doctors scribble notes in shorthand.

Pharmaceutical companies and bio-tech firms have additional obstacles to overcome. Documents should comply with rules imposed by regulatory bodies.

Marketing new products in overseas countries requires the translation of various paperwork, the ingredients of the medication and instructions for use.

Translating medical documents is often necessary to provide proper treatment and care, and health professionals have a duty of care to their patients.

Government funds were once available for migrants to use translation forms to interpret legal and medical documents. However, the Tory government withdrew financial support where immigrants now have to pay for professional translation services out of their own pocket.

Some commentators are calling for medical professionals to take responsibility and cover the costs of interpreting medical documents for patients that cannot afford to pay for the services themselves.

Some translation agencies – like Language Reach – offer discounted translation services for migrants that meet our criteria. We take matters seriously.

Linguists have a varied role to play when providing medical translation services. There are various records that require filling in, consultations to attend, medical notes to interpret, drug prescriptions and doses to explain etc.

Mistakes in medical translations can be costly and it is important for patients to understand what the doctor is explaining as much as it is for medical workers to understand the patients past and present medical history.

To avoid giving a wrong diagnosis, not to mention the potential for costly legal battles, engaging a professional translation agency that specialises in providing medical translation services and language interpreting is a smart move.

Translation companies guarantee that a high standard of quality is maintained when interpreting medical documents. It can literally be a matter of life and death.