Best Practices

The Challenge of Translating English Documents into Spanish in Medical Field

Translating medical contents is a multiple edged challenge, that comes with a professional responsibility bonus. This particular task involves many aspects beyond technical differences between source and target languages.
Romina C. Cinquemani
10 min
Table of Contents

Translating medical contents is a multiple edged challenge, that comes with a professional responsibility bonus. This particular task involves many aspects beyond technical differences between source and target languages. Surmounting those challenges will get you closer to achieving a target result that includes accuracy, coherence, terminology adherence, specific medical jargon research, regulatory compliance, and ethical considerations. 

Technical Aspect of translating into Spanish

As with many other language pairs, sometimes terms lack “mirror” equivalents in the target language. And sometimes even mirrors can be deceiving. Unexperienced translators may fall into the trap of false cognates, and it might be hard to tell whether to translate or not many terms that come from other source languages, even Latin. Only extensive reading of medical texts in both languages, termbases reviews, and practice are helpful to get acquainted with the tricks of this particular trade. It is always useful to compile a list of your resources with trustworthy links to official international organizations, approved glossaries, best practices, and approved abbreviations lists. 

In the medical translation field, abbreviations and acronyms comprise a delightful nightmare of their own. I found that the most convenient two-sided policy is: always reviewing officially and internationally approved versions, if there is no official translation; and asking the final client or your PM about the client’s preferences. The final reviewer is always the final client, because they might have their own style guides, glossaries, established preferences about general language, specific terminology, choice of certain terms over others, and choices based exclusively on their usage of language within the organization. 

Sensible Approach to Each Specialization 

It can be deduced that generalization is medical translation’s worst enemy. There are as many specializations within general medical translation as there are medical branches of knowledge and study. The best approach to provide accurate and coherent translations is to focus on a few specific areas of expertise, so that we are able to acquire deep knowledge of subject matter. These are only a handful of examples of subject matter in the medical translation field: pharmacology, medical procedures, health care, medical insurance, clinical trials, anatomy, and many more.

Cultural Sensitivity and Respect for Spanish Speakers

The communication of medical contents is not exclusively related to cold written texts about diseases or treatments. The center and main interest of medicine is people’s health and wellbeing. Consequently, when they need medical care, treatment, surgery or any other procedure, everything should be explained to them in detail. There is no room for doubt. This applies to patients who talk the same language as their health care providers, but even more so to those patients with a different mother tongue. In medical interpretation between health care professionals and patients, besides physical health, many other factors need to be considered. A few of them include culture, religious beliefs and practices, attitudes towards health, illness, and medical treatments accepted within their culture.

Regulatory Compliance When Translating from English into Spanish

In order to protect the patients’ integrity and rights, medical documents often contain legal and regulatory content that needs to be accurately translated to guarantee compliance. This is particularly frequent when it comes to informed consent forms, patient rights, confidentiality agreements, regulatory guidelines for medical products, procedures, and more. Translators must be at the top of the game in the legal arena, so that mistranslations do not bring about legal consequences, compromise patient confidentiality, result in regulatory non-compliance or, even worse, compromise the patient’s health.

Urgency and Time Requirements

In the medical field, more than in any other area, timely communication is crucial. Delays can cause serious consequences and, in this context, translating medical documents is part of the urgent process. Consequently, professional linguists must respect often tight and strict deadlines, prioritize urgent steps in the process, research, and collaborate within their teams to generate an accurate, consistent, and reliable translation. 

CAT Tools and Tech Resources focused on Spanish

Human expertise comes first in medical translation. Nevertheless, on many occasions medical content includes numerous repetitions and fuzzy matches. This is why technological resources are tremendously important to achieve excellence, and produce spot on translations. These tools come in the form or translation memory software, terminology databases, machine translation systems, and quality assurance tools. Their power improves speed and productivity, but they do need a human eye to oversee their work, to guarantee high quality standards in medical translation.

Ethical Considerations and Patient Confidentiality

Since medical translations handles patients’ private personal, and health information, specialized translators must follow strict ethical standards. They must exercise discretion and integrity in order to protect patient rights. 

Continuing Education and Professional Development

As any other discipline that treats human beings, the field of medicine is dynamic, and ever changing. This implies that new findings, treatments, technologies, devices and medications are discovered, created and applied regularly. Ideally, medical translators must receive ongoing training to stay updated on the latest progress in medical science, terminology, translation techniques, and technologies applied to translation. They should be well versed in health care trends, regulations, best practices, and latest news.

Summing up, translating medical texts from English into Spanish is quite a challenge, but not one that cannot be conquered. Passionate professionals specialized in the medical field know that, to stay relevant, they need a comprehensive understanding of technical terminology, cultural nuances, legal compliance, medical accuracy, and ethical considerations. This comes with a large dose of professional commitment, collaboration, and ongoing learning that, in time, will secure patient safety and confidentiality through accurate and reliable translations.

Romina C. Cinquemani
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