Doctors in Action

Indian Doctors

Medical translation

It’s easy to feel like the world of medicine has a language all of its own. All that jargon! This is precisely why it is so critical to use a specialist medical translator. Afterall, this is one area where you definitely cannot risk any misinterpretations – there are people’s lives and wellbeing at stake here.

Let’s look at some of the specific issues that medical translators must consider:


Clinical sub-genres

Medical language is not just specialist, it’s also very diverse. A cardiologist will not understand all the terms used by an oncologist, for instance. Medical translators will, therefore, often specialise in different fields.


Audience: patient or medic?

Medical experts will vary their language depending on who they are talking to. Whilst experts may talk of ‘varicella’ or ‘cephalalgia’ amongst one another, they will use the equivalent lay terms – ‘chicken pox’ and ‘headache’ (respectively) – with patients. Translators must know which terms to use depending on the audience.

Adapting the message for the medium

There are many forms of medical writing, each with its own set of stylistic conventions that depend upon who and what the text is for. For instance, we have expert-to-expert exchanges, such as research papers, clinical trial results and case notes. We also have communications for patients. These not only include direct conversations between doctor and patient, but also patient fact sheets and drug information sheets, for example. A hugely important consideration here is each country’s specific legal requirements for patient information leaflets. A translator who is familiar with particular genres – and associated legalities – of medical writing will be able to translate appropriately and more rapidly.


Abbreviations and acronyms

One problem faced by medical translators is the preponderance of abbreviations and acronyms in medicine:  EEG (electroencephalogram), ECG (electrocardiogram), WBC (white blood count), are just a few examples of acronyms.  These linguistic shortcuts hasten medical exchanges but can be impenetrable to patients.

Global variations

Medical translation can be especially challenging when concepts for scientific and health-related terms, technical matters, diseases or treatments don’t exist in the target language or culture. Another international challenge is drug names, which vary by country.

Medical translation is one of the most challenging types of translation services and 100% accuracy is essential. So, if you’re looking for a medical translator, be sure to use a specialist.