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Ensuring Medical Translation Accuracy: The Ultimate Guide for Healthcare Providers

“Do no harm” starts with accurate medical translation and interpretation. Learn best practices for achieving language precision in healthcare delivery. 

Medical translation and interpretation is a matter of life and death. Miscommunicating patient symptoms or doctor’s orders can lead to the wrong diagnosis and/or treatment. In severe cases, this can result in hospitalization and even fatality. 

In fact, 30% of medical malpractice claims involve a communication failure, including breakdowns due to language barriers. 

When it comes to your patients’ lives, don’t take the risk. Get to know the dangers of inaccuracies in healthcare settings and how to minimize them. Our experts at Dialog One will go over best practices for ensuring accurate medical translation at your clinic, hospital or healthcare organization. 

What Is Medical Translation and Interpretation?

Communicating well in medical settings is paramount to your patients’ wellbeing, as well as your organization’s reputation. Here are the most in-demand types of medical interpretation and translation today:

Medical Interpretation

  • Medical interpretation (doctor’s consultations, in-person exams, medical conferences, etc.)
  • Telemedicine (live video calls, customer service chats, etc.)

Medical Translation

  • Patient records (lab results, prescriptions, treatment history, consent forms, etc.)
  • Medical equipment (operating instructions, warnings, etc.)
  • Pharmaceutical translation (medication instructions, clinical trial protocols, etc.)
  • Medical software (EHR systems, medical imaging software, mobile apps, etc.)
  • Health insurance documentation (policy terms, claim forms, etc.)
  • Medical research papers

The Risks of Language Inaccuracies in Healthcare Settings

1. Providing the Wrong Type of Care

If the patient can’t communicate crucial information about their health situation, medical teams may struggle to understand what’s wrong and misdiagnose as a result. 

Take for example the famous $71 million dollar word “intoxicado.” A patient came to a South Florida hospital in a coma and his family communicated in Spanish that they believed he was “intoxicado.” A staff member interpreted this word as “intoxicated” and the patient was treated for drug overdose. 

In reality, “intoxicado” in Spanish can refer to anything you ingest that makes you sick. The patient was left quadriplegic due to a delay in diagnosis and treatment for a brain hemorrhage. Due to the malpractice, the patient received a settlement of $71 million. 

Mistakes in medical translation can also have devastating consequences. A hospital in France accidentally over-radiated prostate cancer patients between 1989-2006 due to staff incorrectly translating instructions for the radiation equipment. As a result, five patients died and many others continue to suffer from pain and health problems.

2. Miscommunicating Medication Instructions

Medication instructions are also vital to get right, whether they’re communicated on a label or through physician directions. 

If a patient accidentally takes too much of a medication, it could cause overdose, hospitalization and even death. In fact, 15.8% of patients with limited English proficiency suffered a bad reaction to medication because of problems understanding instructions. 

For instance, a Spanish-speaking patient in the U.S. was hospitalized after taking a high dose of blood thinner. The mistranslated instructions directed the patient to “take it once a day” instead of the correct translation “take one pill a day.”

This can happen even when the medication label is translated into the patient’s native language. A recent study demonstrated that computer-generated Spanish medication labels had an error rate as high as 50%

3. Not Picking Up on Key Patient Info 

Patients may not be as expressive when they’re communicating in their non-native language. Language barriers may ultimately lead to physicians receiving less information, which may be key to a proper diagnosis. 

Studies show that 37% of physicians feel patients hide information due to language difficulty. In these cases, it’s vital to have interpreters on hand to ensure all patient data is collected. 

4. Experiencing Delays in Getting the Right Treatment

Miscommunication due to language barriers can also delay getting patients the right care. For example, patients who don’t speak the native language report delays in getting the physician to understand their concerns

In case of a serious illness, this delay can be the difference between life and death. In one case in Canada, an older woman struggled to express her symptoms in English and was diagnosed with an infection. In truth, she had uterus cancer, which went untreated

Keep in mind that delays in diagnosis also increase costs for your health organization, especially regarding readmissions. A recent study estimated that hospitals could save $161,404 per month by avoiding readmissions that occurred due to a lack of interpretation services. 

Finally, patients may delay getting in touch with healthcare providers if the hospital or clinic doesn’t offer language services. Patients with language discomfort may hesitate to schedule an appointment, resulting in postponed diagnosis and treatment. 

5. Failing to Earn Patient Trust

When your organization can’t communicate seamlessly with patients of diverse language backgrounds, it can cause breakdowns in trust. Just consider that 11% of malpractice claimants report an “unsympathetic response” to their situation

Studies show that language-related miscommunications lead to reduced patient satisfaction and an overall decreased quality of healthcare. In turn, your organization’s reputation may take a hit – or you may get slapped with a lawsuit. It’s essential to provide medical interpretation and translation services in order to retain your patients’ trust, regardless of their native language.  

6. Creating Barriers to Care for Vulnerable Individuals 

Individuals with limited English proficiency are also less likely to get preventative or primary care services. For example, only 30% of non-English speakers get colorectal cancer screenings in the U.S., compared to 50% of English speakers. 

Specifically, the anxiety of not understanding their medical provider is a major factor for non-English speakers. 20% report this fear as the reason they don’t seek out healthcare services

Having medical translation and interpretation at your healthcare organization can reassure your patients and remove this key barrier to care.

7. Exposing Ad Hoc Interpreters to Sensitive Health Situations

Ad hoc bilingual persons who provide unofficial language services are often friends, family, or medical staff with untested language/cultural skills. While many healthcare centers and clinics rely on ad hoc bilingual persons, doing so can put your patients at risk. 

Even ad hoc bilinguals with the best intentions are untrained and make mistakes. Studies show that using ad hoc bilinguals can result in as many as 19 clinically significant errors per encounter. The most common mistake tends to be omitting information, accounting for 52% of errors

Using machine translation tools as a substitute for professional written translation services can also be problematic. When physicians used Google Translate to convey instructions from English, inaccurate written translations led to “clinically significant harm” in 2% of cases in Spanish and 8% of cases in Chinese

Ad hoc bilinguals also bring up potential confidentiality problems. If a patient doesn’t want a family member to know certain health information, they may be put in a situation where they can’t receive medical care without revealing it. 

It’s also worth noting the psychological effects when a family member acts as an ad hoc bilingual interpreter. Consider the emotional trauma when a spouse has to break the news to his wife that she has breast cancer

These effects are even more acute for children. When an English-speaking child is asked to interpret a parent’s symptoms, they may be exposed to potentially disturbing information. Studies suggest that children in this situation can suffer from stress, parent-child conflict and negative psychological effects

8. Not Meeting Health Equity Goals

As part of your commitment to care, your organization likely has health equity goals. When you don’t have accurate medical translation and interpretation available, you may fail to achieve the highest quality care delivery to patients of all backgrounds. 

For example, you can achieve greater health equity by enabling the ability to:

  • Schedule appointments in multiple languages (via phone or online platform)
  • Request on-demand human/AI interpreters over the phone/video
  • Access accredited or certified interpreters in person
  • Get content forms for medical care translated in various languages 
  • Receive doctor’s orders, medical instructions, and other health information in various languages 
  • Enjoy relevant community-run health programs
  • Interact with medical staff trained in language and cultural sensitivity

9. Undergoing Extensive Legal Hoops or Fees

Besides the negative effects on your patients’ well-being, miscommunication in healthcare settings can lead to hefty legal expenses. 

Communication failures accounted for an estimated $1.7 billion in malpractice costs during a four-year period in the U.S. In addition to malpractice suits and legal fees, your healthcare organization can face challenges that are expensive to resolve, such as license cancellation. 

At the end of the day, you can minimize legal fees by creating a robust medical translation strategy for your organization. 

How Dialog One Can Help You Achieve Accurate Medical Translation Services

Without a doubt, medical translation and interpretation are vital to properly running your healthcare organization. As you consider how best to handle medical translation and interpretation services, you’ll want to create a strategy specific to your organization. 

The #1 factor for achieving accurate, high-caliber medical translation is choosing the right language partner. Here’s what you should look for in a professional language service provider. 

1. Specialized Medical Translators & Interpreters

Medical translation and interpretation is a highly specialized field. For accurate language services, your language partner must have linguists on board who are subject matter experts in medicine. 

These medical interpreters should have a medical background and be accredited through years of experience or demonstrate proficiency when tested by either CCHI or NBCMI. Specific types of medical translators require different accreditations, too. For example, medical device document translators should have the ISO 13485 accreditation. 

At Dialog One, our team of linguists have many years of experience in the medical field and hold the necessary accreditations to support the healthcare industry. We pride ourselves in hiring bilingual professionals with strong cultural ties to both languages, so that providers can deliver friendly and culturally relevant services. 

2. Airtight QA Processes 

Your language service partner should also utilize the tried-and-true TEPC (Translation, Editing, Proofreading and Cultural review) process. This methodology is geared towards maximizing QA in your written translations. It involves having multiple professionals review the translation and undergo any required editing/proofreading. 

Keep in mind that medicine is an ever-evolving field that deserves even tighter QA processes. The best language service partners will go the extra step of routinely updating medical glossaries and regulatory guidelines to ensure translators have the most up-to-date resources.

3. The Right Medical Translation Tools

Modern translation and interpretation today are supported by new technologies. Top language service providers will leverage these tools to provide even higher quality services. 

  • For written translation, these tools may include a CAT, Translation Memory (TM), specialized glossary, medical regulation database, and more. 
  • For oral interpretation, this often includes apps or integrations with popular phone, video, web conference and AI artificial intelligence platforms.

You’ll want to lean on a language service partner with this level of technical authority to guarantee the best results. At Dialog One, we align with your technology needs and even offer our own language app called Dovi

4. Commitment to Data Security and Compliance

Medical translation and interpretation success also depends greatly on staying compliant with data regulations. Premier language service providers are at the frontlines of guaranteeing adherence.

Your chosen language service partner should have rigorous practices to ensure your organizational data (including sensitive patient information) is well-protected. This includes cybersecurity protocols and adherence to regulations such as HIPAA and FERPA. 

Regulatory compliance can be especially tricky, depending on your location and the required field of medical translation. For example, the EU recently passed a new Medical Device Regulation (EU MDR) that requires companies to provide device documentation in all 24 official EU languages. 

Ultimately, the right language partner will be up-to-date on complying with all data and regulatory requirements. 

5. Long-Term Strategic Planning

Finally, you should lean on a language partner who will craft long-term plans for your organization. Without a specific strategy that defines your translation needs and goals, you may get only a band-aid solution. 

In particular, the volume of content that healthcare organizations need can be massive. You must choose a language partner with the resources to handle your requirements. This includes having the right language pairs, technologies, and availability to meet your patients’ language needs in the long run.  

As part of strategic planning, you’ll also want a partner who is transparent about pricing. While accuracy and quality are often the first priority, your organization must have a clear understanding of your large-scale costs. 

Choose Dialog One to Maximize Your Medical Translation Results

“Do no harm” starts with accurate medical translation and interpretation. To minimize the risks of inaccuracies in healthcare settings, your best bet is to select a first-rate language service provider. 

At Dialog One, we have the industry know-how and personalized approach to provide best-in-class medical translation and interpretation. We also meet all national and international standards for medical translation, so rest assured you’ll receive the highest quality results. 

Let us be the bridge between patients and physicians at your healthcare organization. Schedule a consultation with us today!

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