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The Importance of Medical Translation

translation of medical documents

Last updated on October 14th, 2022 at 04:37 pm

Medical Translation Services in Society

Medical Translation: A True Life-Saver

Medical translation is the conversion of medical documents and files, including its terminology, from one language into another. Doctors and hospitals aren’t the only ones who rely on medical translation—millions of people benefit from medical translation every day. We’d like to show you more about how medical document translation works for you and how we make it work for our clients worldwide.

Who Uses Medical Translation Services?

We’ll look deeper into how medical staff uses medical translation. But first, let’s look at some other entities and organizations that benefit from medical translation:

  • Pharmaceutical companies use medical translations for drug labels that indicate who the medication is intended for, who prescribed it, the name of the medication, measurements, dosage, instructions, side effects, and warnings.
  • Academic institutions use medical translation services to dispense information to the student body, students’ families, faculty, and governments.
  • Businesses use medical translation to stay in compliance by ensuring that employees have access to medical information concerning matters of safety and insurance.
  • Insurance companies use medical translations to support the reimbursement of medical expenses that happen outside of the US in foreign countries.
  • Governments use medical translation to oversee medical institutions, keep the public informed, pass information to the media, and communicate with medical experts and other governments. Imagine the state our nation would be in right now with the COVID-19 pandemic without medical translation services.
  • Individuals require important medical exams and reports translated when they need to be seen in the US and they come from other countries that do not speak English.
  • Patents of medical devices and their use require a translation when they are sent to other countries for evaluation and use.

The second most spoken language in the US is Spanish. English to Spanish medical translation, and vice versa, is an essential resource for serving communities across the US. While other languages spoken in the US may not be as prevalent as Spanish, translation is still a must to help these populations with issues like prescriptions to government and healthcare announcements.

What Medical Translators Do

A medical translator is just like any other kind, right? They go through medical documents and translate them into the language needed. Absolutely not. Medical and healthcare translation leaves no room for error and requires a high level of expertise from the translator. That’s why we only use medical professionals who can fluently translate medical terminology from the source language to the target language with no change in meaning.

I am a translator with more than 15 years of experience., I work on IT and marketing translation, but would never consider doing medical translation since I do not know or understand complex medical terms. Research in medical translation will not be enough to find the appropriate term; deep understanding and knowledge is needed when dealing with complex medical documents. Mistranslation could lead to deadly results.

Read on for some examples of the difference professional healthcare translators make.

Patient Care

Medical translators play an important role in patient care. While a patient is in the hospital, charts and instructions should be translated for any multilingual staff, patients, and caregivers. This includes instructions for physical therapists, nurses, and orderlies.

Medical Progress

Medical translators remove the limitations placed on medical progress by language barriers. Paired with advances in communication methods like email, a doctor can tell a colleague about new information in seconds. Labs can exchange information on experiments that they can then use to set up studies to test new medications, devices, and procedures.

Post-Discharge Patient Care

Medical document translation continues to work after the patient is discharged from the hospital. Instructions on how to use devices and administer medications are sent home with patients and caregivers to help the patient recover with as little pain and difficulty as possible.

The Language of Medicine

Medical terminology is highly precise, and one mistranslated word or number could harm someone. Medical terminology also varies widely by field, e.g. dentistry versus optometry. Our medical translators are experts in the specific field required.

Who Are You Talking To?

Medical translators must be able to translate medical terminology meant for medical experts, but they must also know how to translate medical material meant for a patient. If you’re communicating with a doctor, you’d say “scapula,” but if you’re communicating with a patient, “shoulder blade” would make more sense. Or, “blade bone” or “wing bone” might make more sense according to regional dialect.  Also, some medical websites require the usage of several keywords for patients and other very different ones for doctors and researchers. Knowing the audience and how the document is going to be used is extremely important to give context to the medical translator to work on a brochure, case study, or website.

Some forms of medical terminology a medical translator must be knowledgeable of include:

Abbreviations, Initialisms, and Acronyms

“Ad lib” is a medical abbreviation that has nothing to do with stand-up comedy but means “at liberty.” OCP is an initialism that means “oral contraceptive pills.” NICU is an acronym that means “neonatal intensive care unit.” A medical translator must be able to identify all of these correctly in the source and target language.


An eponym is a word or term that is named after someone. For instance, Graves disease is named after Robert Graves and does not refer to a place where bodies are interred. It is also important to know that eponyms can vary. Graves disease may be the name for the malady in the US, but in Europe, the condition is often called von Basedow’s disease, after Karl von Basedow. A professional medical translator must be able to identify these correctly, based on experience and the capacity to understand the context of the content. Eponyms are widely used in medicine.


A doublet is two or more words that have the same root meaning but have variations in meaning. Consider “cut” versus “laceration.” “Cut” is a general word, whereas “laceration” in medicine typically means a deep and/or jagged cut. “Cut” can be a noun or a verb but “laceration” is always a noun with the verb form “lacerate.” Medical translators must be acutely aware of such terminology.

Effects of Medical Translation

Some tangible examples of how medical translation works are:

  • Papers published in medical and scientific journals can be read by students and professionals worldwide.
  • Hospitals are able to keep better records that can be accessed for use later. A small detail in a patient’s medical history can provide great insight.
  • Textbooks and class materials can be translated for use by professors and the students that will be the next generation of medical professionals.
  • Communication between experts is vital for making advances and trading information. If a pathologist in Egypt needs to talk with an oncologist in Australia, medical translation services are there to facilitate that conversation.
  • Medical institutions see a reduction in overbilling, malpractice, and reinjury. They are also able to stay in compliance with HIPAA regulations.
  • Medical translation reduces patients’ stress, pain, and risk of reinjury. A patient cannot be treated correctly if their chart is mistranslated to say that they have pneumonia when they have actually aspirated other fluids.
  • Medical translation, especially in hospitals and dental places, goes in tandem with medical interpretation facilitating the medical information to populations that have limited English proficiency. Be careful requesting the services that your users need to cover their needs in full.

Examples of our work In Medical Translation Services

  • Medical website translation for doctors in vein care, plastic surgery, and different types of alternative medicine.
  • Medical Video translation into Arabic and Spanish with subtitles and voice-over from hospitals to their patients for best at-home care during Cancer.
  • Document translation from insurance companies to their multilingual users.
  • Medical research from hospitals to international communities and vice versa.
  • eLearning translation of training programs into Spanish for doctors and doctors-to-be.
  • Multilingual Supporting instructions for medical devices.

Better Translation, Better Care

Our mission is to break down language barriers in society, the healthcare sector, and the field of medicine. Ethics, empathy, and knowledge add to the translation process and the magic of communication to mitigate suffering.

Do not hesitate to contact us with your medical translation needs, whether it’s a single page or a library of medical textbooks. We have the professionals for the job and are ready to talk with you about your project. Our translation company will create the team needed for your project.

Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie Ruffolo
Jackie was born in Venezuela and has a BS in computer engineering. As President of JR Language, she spends time researching new technology and productivity tools for the Company. She holds a certificate of Localization and Project Management- Localization. Through her many years of experience working in multilingual corporate environments, she understands firsthand the value of bridging language barriers in creating smooth communication that allows for productive and happy work environments. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and is a frequent contributor to both our English and Spanish blogs. 20 Years of experience in marketing Jackie loves nature and to be outdoors.