Translating medical terms: not merely package inserts

translating medical terms

Translating medical terms: not merely package inserts

Medical translation is used for many other documents besides classic hospital reports needed to undergo treatment abroad. In today’s article, we’ll explore the peculiarities of this field of translation and discuss the importance of the proper translation of medical terms.

If you’ve ever undergone treatment or checkups abroad, you’ve probably understood the importance of medical translation firsthand: without professionals that make communication between two different nations (and healthcare systems) possible, many patients admitted to a country other than their own would be at risk of experiencing serious difficulties.

In recent years, mainly due to the outbreak of the pandemic, the demand for translations in healthcare has seen a 50% increase. However, the increase in demand has not automatically been accompanied by an increase in qualified professionals: in order to be able to provide quality translations, being able to guarantee maximum accuracy is imperative, so as to avoid potentially very dangerous omissions and errors. In short, one can hardly improvise as a medical translator!

We at Creative Words fully understand the importance of translations in the medical field, which is why we rely exclusively on qualified experts in order to be able to provide the best possible service.

As we all know, there are many necessary skills in being a good medical translator: consider, among other things, the importance of translating medical terms, which are often extremely specific and complex and will need to be understood and accurately translated into the target language.

In today’s article we will focus specifically on this aspect, exploring the world of medical translations and the crucial role of terminology knowledge in the work of specialised translators.


What does medical translation mean, exactly?

Of course, before delving into the importance of translating medical terms, let’s start with the basics, namely the concept of translation in the medical field.

In general, we can define translation in the medical field as any specialised translation of medical documents and texts such as diagnostic reports, hospital discharge forms, prescription information, clinical trials, instruction manuals for medical devices, patient information pamphlets, and more.


Translating medical terms: the peculiarities of translation in health care

As you probably imagine, the medical field represents the most complex and challenging area of specialisation for translation professionals, followed by the legal field. But what, in detail, are the peculiarities and difficulties of translation in this area?

  • Terminology: as we will further examine below, medical terminology is very complex and varies by country or region. Technical terms often have specific meanings that may differ from one language to another. Consequently, it is crucial to pay special attention to the translation of medical terms.
  • Accuracy: a small error, omission or inaccuracy in a medical translation could lead to serious consequences for the patient’s health. Translators must therefore be extremely thorough and detail-oriented so as to ensure that the original meaning of the text is conveyed as accurately as possible.translating medical terms medical field
  • Medical knowledge: in addition to terminology, translators absolutely must have a thorough understanding of procedures in this area, as well as regulations and requirements specific to the healthcare sector. For this very purpose, many translators choose to take specific training courses.
  • Confidentiality: documents subject to translation often contain sensitive and confidential patient health information. Therefore, medical translators will have to strictly respect the privacy of their customers and ensure that confidential information is not disclosed to unauthorised third parties.


The importance of the correct translation of medical terms

When it comes to medical translations, understanding and transposing specific terminology are critical aspects for ensuring maximum correspondence with the source text.

Think, for example, of the expression “rheumatoid arthritis,” a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. In this case, the term “arthritis” refers to joint inflammation, while “rheumatoid” indicates a link to the immune system. Both terms therefore have extremely specific and circumscribed meanings that are difficult to summarise with different expressions and that will have to be transposed with an equally specific expression in the target language.

translating medical terms
documentsMedical terminology is often composed of Greek or Latin words and roots, which are used in a standardised way to describe medical conditions and procedures (often with the same meanings internationally, such as the root “a-” for deprivation or lack).

Accordingly, specific terms should be used consistently and uniformly throughout all medical documentation, both in the original document and subsequent translation, to ensure effective and accurate communication among medical professionals across countries and between languages.


Incorrect translation of medical terms: problems and consequences

Having ascertained the importance of translating medical terms, it is also important to mention some of the possible problems that could arise from the inaccurate translation of important healthcare documents.

  • Incorrect medical translation could, for example, lead to dosage errors in prescribed medications, with serious consequences for the patient’s health and treatment effectiveness.
  • Translation errors could also impact the interpretation of the patient’s symptoms, possibly affecting diagnosis and treatment.
  • Legal problems could arise from an incorrect medical translation for healthcare professionals or medical institutions. If a mistranslation led to a misdiagnosis or treatment error, there could be legal consequences for the healthcare staff, the hospital, or the translator.
  • Finally, a patient who finds himself or herself reading a crudely translated medical document may have serious difficulty understanding its contents, diagnosis and possible treatment, or may not fully understand the procedures and expectations of a future surgery, experiencing fear and confusion.


At Creative Words, we have been working with specialised medical translators for years to provide accurate, quality translations. If you need to translate a medical document, contact us obligation-free: we will be happy to find the best solution for your needs together with you.

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