Medical Translations: Quality Matters

by Manuel Herranz

When you think about two different jobs, doctors and translators do not come to mind as two related professions

But the fields of life science and medicine and translation services

do share at least one important feature: you never call the doctor until you need one. Likewise, you never search for translation services until you really need a translator. But the same could be said about the legal profession and legal translations or the engineering industry and technical translations. The translation industry is a multi-facetted industry and professional translators are supposed to be experts or knowledgeable about many fields. It is not a small industry either, and myths about the translation industry are disappearing as technology has been able to automate many processes. Ideally, experienced translators working in any of those particular areas of knowledge will help improve the conditions of each industry, and in particular the medical industry.

All translation agencies / translation companies offer different levels of service

These depend largely on the target audience, meaning and the final intended use and final readers. We offer 4 general translation levels at Pangeanic, plus others which may involve machine translation and lighter or heavier post-editing (revision by a human translator). Generally speaking, the more critical the application, the more eyes are going to read the document. The more serious the consequences in case of an error, the higher the translation level and the more verifications, quality control and translation reviews and stages a document will have. We could classify translation levels as follows

  1. Fast Translation (one linguist) This is purely a translation service for internal materials or when one translator and his/her own proofreading suffice. No serious publication is expected. The buyer of translation services can put up with some errors as speed of the delivery is more important than the beauty of the expression.
  2. Standard Translation Translators with experience in a given field produce a first, quality translation. They are quite familiar with the subject area and are able to verify their own translated document. This is later checked by an expert Project Manager and returned to the translator for final approval.
  3. Premium or High Quality Translation Services This translation service requires an expert translator to produce a highly technical, medical, legal translation. His/her version is then carefully checked and proofread by a different translator for terminology, style, expressions and accuracy. The proofread version is returned to a Project Manager who also has experience in the field and to the first translator for final approval. This process is rather lengthy, but it is required not only for the technical areas above, but also for marketing translations where a transcreation of the original is needed.
  4. Proofreading Only If the person writing has a high command of the target language, he or she may require a native speaker to read his or her first version

Clearly, all medical translations and life science translations would fall under the category of “Premium” or “High Quality Translation Services”. But why? Medical Translations - Quality Matters If the different levels in expected translation “quality” are perfectly understandable, the medical and life science industry deals with something that concerns us all: our health, and sometimes life and death treatments. Clinical Trials are undertaken many times under strict regulations and they have to be carried out in several countries, by different institutions or  laboratories in order to be approved at a national level. The EU, for example, has several directives for clinical trials in the case of  Medicinal products for human use. Clinical trials have to be authorized, they have to comply with certain levels of transparency and they have to be reported. If clinical trials are conducted outside the European Union, but submitted in an application for marketing authorization for countries in the Union, they still must follow the principles which are equivalent to the provisions of the Clinical Trials Directive. Expect this to be the same in most countries – and in different languages. This is one of the reasons why translation for the medical translation industry has to satisfy higher expectations. There is not only the potential failure in the trial itself, but any small translation error or misunderstanding, any medical terminology error can have devastating consequences in budgets and time-to-market, not to mention misuse of a drug, pharmaceutical or medical device. Quality matters in life science and medical translations if only because a large number of people, from doctors to nurses to consumers, in fact, the entire supply chain is placing their faith in the accuracy of the translation. It may sound a commonplace, but quality matters in medical translations because it is life-critical.

Translator selection process for medical translations

The requirements placed on the recruitment of medical translation experts are quite high compared to other disciplines and usual levels of stringency. Proven experience is a must-have for any life science and medical translators, and “being a doctor” is not usually enough. Few doctors have spare time outside their busy schedules to spend time translating. This used to be a sales point by some translation companies years ago, but the Internet has changed accessibility and working habits. Doctors and medical personnel seldom have enough time to catch up with the latest developments in the medical field. Considering the sheer diversity of clinical specializations, it is simply not realistic to expect every medical translation to be carried out by a linguistically skilled doctor. Expert medical translators are, precisely, expert translators. They have either a previous level of experience in translation and have specialized in the medical field or they gained experience during their Translation Studies degree at University and have proved themselves in the market for several years as in-house staff or freelance translators.

PANGEANIC’S USE CASE: Medical Translation for Clinical Trials

Quality Processes in medical translation services

The “experience” is not just time spent resolving word equivalents. It includes the whole translation process and familiarization with several translation tools, terminology databanks and QA tools that ensure that terminology has been adhered to and respected. When medical translation projects are big enough, the translation company must put a team to work. This means that the translation company must have a structure in place be have a good Internet connection, plus confidentiality agreements in place and the means to ensure that information is treated confidentially. Translators working remotely cannot keep a copy of the work. Only translation agencies with enough resources and technology can assemble an efficient team for translation, proofreading and terminology management and checking quickly.

Did you enjoy reading this blog? Read about our experience with medical devices and medical trials at: Life Science and Medical Translations

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