Literally is the word used deliberately to describe the importance of medical translation because, in the field of medicine it truly can be a life and death situation.
Translation in the biomedical and healthcare industry goes beyond converting one language source to another. The stakes are so high because patients’ lives are put in “your hands”. This is why highly trained professionals with medical background is necessary for medical translation. It should not be taken lightly as any misdiagnosis can lead to unpleasant circumstances.
Why isn’t it so simple?
There have been cases recorded globally where poor translation had led to unfortunate outcomes.
One of the most famous cases is the misdiagnosis of Willie Ramirez in 1980.
In 1980, the well-renowned baseball play, Willie Ramirez fell into a coma and was brought to a hospital in South Florida, United States. The doctors had assigned medical interpreters to translate words from his family members, who only spoke Cuban Spanish.
The interpreter had misinterpreted the Cuban Spanish word for “intoxicado” as “intoxicated”. This one wrong word translated to the doctor led Ramirez to waking up a quadriplegic.
This famous incident demonstrates the serious risks of faulty interpretation and inexperienced medical translation. In Cuban Spanish, the word “intoxicado” does not translate to being intoxicated, as how most English speakers would read, view and know it. In the biomedical and healthcare industry, the context and meaning of the word differ.
“Intoxicado” in Cuban Spanish means the condition of feeling sick from ingesting wrongful substance. This one interpreted word saw the doctors taking this case lightly and the final diagnosis was given as drug overdose. Because of this, no further tests, check-ups or analysis were done to consider any other possible problems and causes.
Little did they know, Ramirez did not suffer from drug overdose, he was bleeding in the brain. By the time the doctors realised this, it was too late. Permanent damage had already been done to Ramirez’s body.
What are the risks of improper medical translation and interpretation?
Pharmaceutical companies, medical companies, specialists, and even hospitals must know that it is very important to have competent medical translation and interpretation services. Effective communication is vital between patients and doctors; otherwise, the following could happen:
- Inappropriate treatment, complications, and even death due to misdiagnosis
- Inability to refer patients to other facilities because of the language barrier
- Delayed treatment because of the inability to properly diagnose a patient
- Fear of doctors to provide care or treatment because they might be sued for the lack of a competent interpreter
- Litigation as patients claim that they were not properly informed when they signed consent forms
- Misinformation or misleading information when patient education materials are inaccurately translated
One of the biggest risks factors is family members.
Family members and friends should not be used as translators and interpreters.
Although family members have good intentions, providing medical translation and interpretation informally may do more harm than good. It must be made clear to doctors, nurses and family members involved, that simple translation from one language to another is not enough.
Pharmaceutical companies and medical organizations must understand that medical translation is not something to be taken lightly.
Not knowing how to hire a professional translator and interpreter is a common problem and so the most ideally safer strategy is to engage a professional language solutions service provider who has a pool of professional medical translators and interpreters ready to go.
They say “You only live once.” This is a false statement. You can live everyday how you want it to be. The truth is, “You only die once”.