NPR Highlights Medical Translation 

In the translation industry, quality counts, and that’s especially true in fields like medical translation, where lives are quite literally at stake.  Today, an article on NPR highlights what can happen when medical translation and interpreting goes awry.

The article begins with the story of Willie Ramirez, an 18-year-old who was hospitalized in Florida in 1980. Ramirez was already in a coma when he arrived at the hospital, and his family only spoke Spanish. Due to an interpreting error, the hospital initially attributed his systems to a drug overdose; by the time he got treatment for the brain bleed he actually had, massive irreversible brain damage had already occurred. He was left quadriplegic.

Even now, over three decades later, US patients have trouble accessing services in languages other than English. Some states, like Oregon, do have laws that require the use of professional interpreters, but even in these states patients are still underserved.

In-person medical interpreters are rarely available, so doctors and patients rely on either over-the-phone interpreters or on English-speaking family members, often the patients’ young children.

Medical interpreter Helen Eby told NPR that using family as interpreters can create problems:

“You know, you’ve got a 10-year-old in a gynecology appointment,” she says. “Is this where you would normally take a 10-year-old? Not likely. Or [you’ll] have a child — an adult child even — interpret a parent’s cancer diagnosis. That’s got to be highly traumatic.” And the chances that important medical details will be misunderstood increases significantly.

Telephone interpreting services do have interpreters available in a variety of languages, but they have problems of their own. For starters, the interperters may not be trained to interpret in medical situations. Additionally, having to use a telephone creates obstacles for many patients,  according to Oregon doctor Dr. Angela Alday:

“One problem that I run into with the translator phone is a lot of our elderly patients seem to be kind of confused by it. You know some of them don’t hear very well so that can be a problem with the phone translator. And then, particularly if the patient has dementia, sometimes using the telephone translator is confusing. They don’t know what’s going on.”

Hopefully, the situation in Oregon and the United States as a whole will improve in time.

Good medical translation protects patients and organizations. Learn more about K International’s experience in the medical translation field and our quality control process here. 

Photo credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by phalinn

Medical Translation Gone Wrong: 7 Devastating Medical Translation Errors

“First do no harm” is a difficult promise to keep when language barriers interfere with communication between doctors and patients.  Medical translation and interpreting can break down those barriers. However, quality is of the utmost importance when lives hang in the balance. These examples of medical translation errors show why it’s important to use highly skilled and specially trained medical translators and interpreters.

Is this the most expensive medical translation error? Willie Ramirez and the $71 million word

Willie Ramirez was only 18 and out with friends when he suddenly developed a splitting headache. By the time he got to his girlfriend’s house, he was barely conscious.  They rushed him to the hospital, but he woke up paralyzed. He will never walk again.  A brain bleed left him a quadriplegic for life.

But it didn’t have to be that way. The haemorrhage should have been treatable, but the Ramirez family did not have access to a Spanish interpreter. So, when they told the emergency room doctors that they believed Willie was “intoxicado,” he was treated for a drug overdose. As Health Affairs explains, “intoxicado” is not the same as “intoxicated.”

Among Cubans, “intoxicado” is kind of an all encompassing word that means there’s something wrong with you because of something you ate or drank. I ate something and now I have hives or an allergic reaction to the food or I’m nauseous.

Doctors only discovered the haemorrhage after days of improper treatment. By then, it was too late. The hospital, which should have provided a professional interpreter, is liable for a settlement of approximately 71 million dollars to pay for Willie’s care for the rest of his life.  Read more

Translation of Clinical Trials

Translation for Clinical Trials

Over the past decade, clinical trials for new drugs, treatments and medical devices have increasingly been conducted in countries overseas. Emerging markets offer attractive benefits to sponsors, including significant cost reductions, easier recruitment and faster study completion. Top countries for outsourcing clinical research include India, China and Russia.

The need for quality medical translation grows as more clinical trials are conducted in emerging nations. Clinical research accounts for a significant percentage of the cost of bringing a new drug to market, but poor-quality translation during the trial period can incur even more significant costs. Put simply, the wrong translation provider can compromise an entire study.  Read more

Improving Efficiency without Sacrificing Quality

A Guide to the Medical Translation Process

For medical translation projects, there are two competing concerns: efficiency and quality. Clients want a fast turnaround for as little money as possible, but the life-or-death nature of medical translation makes even minor errors unacceptable. How can we design a medical translation process that minimizes time and cost to the client, yet still meets regulatory standards and ensures accuracy?

Balancing these goals takes careful consideration and planning during each stage of the medical translation project. No computer program can ensure your message comes across clearly and accurately as well as a skilled human translator can, but using technology appropriately at each stage can streamline the process.

Read more

Regulation Information for Medical Translation

Medical Translation Regulations

Medical translation is serious business. Mistakes can be a matter of life or death. As such, medical translation is one of the most heavily regulated segments of the translation industry.

Translation vendors and clients alike must navigate a complex labyrinth of rules at the local, national and international levels in order to stay compliant. Regulations govern what material must be translated, how data is transmitted and stored and the translation process itself.

Medical translation requirements can vary greatly depending on the product in question and the target markets. In most markets you need to have public-facing documents such as patient information sheets, marketing materials and forms for clinical trials translated into the local language. You may need to translate into minority languages, as well. Most of the time, material aimed at healthcare professionals must be translated, too, along with patent applications and applications for regulatory approval. Read more

Ebola: Lost in Translation?

Ebola is a horrible disease, and education is crucial to keeping it contained. Unfortunately, however, most educational campaigns to date are missing an important element: translation.

For example, earlier this week in the New Statesman, Translators Without Borders founder Lori Thicke noted that despite efforts to educate Africans about how the virus is spread and how to protect themselves, ignorance about the disease remains disturbingly high:

The ebola communication failure was recently highlighted by UNICEF, Focus 1000 and Catholic Relief Services. In September the organisations reported that in Sierra Leone – one of three West African nations at the epicentre of the outbreak – nearly a third of the people believe ebola comes from mosquitoes, or the air. Almost two-thirds could not identify the ways to prevent the disease.

One big reason for this lack of knowledge? Information, signs and billboards have so far been mostly distributed in English or French, which only a minority of West Africans speak. Fail.

As TWB told the Telegraph:

“People will die because they do not have access to information in a language they can understand. Whether it is the cultural practice of kissing the dead soon after death, or eating bats, or simply a lack of understanding about how the disease is transmitted or treated, this lack of information leading to lack of knowledge is costing lives and facilitating the spread of the disease.”

Even in English-speaking countries, language barriers often prevent accurate language about ebola from reaching the most vulnerable immigrant populations.

For example, according to USA Today, it took a week for the Dallas County health department to get Ebola fact sheets translated into the languages spoken by the mostly immigrant population living in the apartments where the first US Ebola victim was staying. The original announcement was distributed in English. Anne Marie Weiss, president of the DFW International Community Alliance, told USA Today that for the most part, residents of the building “don’t speak English. The health department was too slow to translate the documents. It should have happened immediately.”

We have to do better than this!


K-Team-at-Swanbourne20 members of the team from K International are running the Swanbourne Endeavour on Sunday to raise cash for this cause. We need your help. Please either share the link or make a donation if you can. The link is here > Taking on the Swanbourne Endeavour <.

We’re getting close to our target of $1000 so everything helps. Thank you.