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The Need for Accurate Translation Services for Healthcare

We live in an increasingly global society, where the diversity of languages spoken has become more prominent. In fact, in the US in 2019, nearly 1 in 5 adults spoke a language other than English at home. This linguistic diversity has significant implications, particularly in the healthcare industry, where accurate translation plays a vital role in providing quality care and ensuring businesses maintain regulatory compliance. Translating medical terminology isn’t a simple task, however. It requires both industry and language expertise. In this article, we’ll look at some of the ways translation is commonly used in healthcare and insurance, challenges in obtaining accurate translation, and tips for finding the best translation services.

What is translation?

Translation and interpretation are often used interchangeably. However, the two have distinct meanings and are used for different purposes. Interpreters translate spoken or sign language to facilitate conversation between people who speak different languages. Translators, on the other hand, convert written communication from one language to another.

How is translation used in healthcare?

Translation services are necessary for providing medical documents in a variety of languages. In healthcare, translation must be done by experts who are familiar with medical terminology, biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Healthcare translators work with various documents, including academic journals, medical reports, pharmaceutical information, medical charts, and information regarding health plans and coverage. They may also need to translate websites into various languages. Accuracy is vital for safety and quality.

Effective communication between healthcare and insurance providers is essential. Healthcare providers want to receive timely payments, and patients want to avoid unnecessary out-of-pocket medical expenses. As a result, patients, doctors' offices, and health plan providers must be able to work together to file forms properly.

Translation services are needed for several health insurance tasks, including

  • Claims processing—Translation services help eliminate delays by reducing errors.
  • Compliance—Language access is mandatory in the healthcare industry. Current laws require healthcare providers to offer translation services to policyholders with limited English proficiency (LEP).
  • Customer service—Translation services help LEP policyholders understand their health plans.
  • Pharmaceutical prescriptions—Many health plan providers require prior authorization for medications. Translation services help with filing the proper forms and facilitating accurate communication among all parties to help ensure patients can promptly access needed medications.

What challenges impede accurate translation in healthcare?

Medical translation is challenging, and accuracy is critical, as patients’ lives and health may be at stake. Below are several challenges that commonly arise in healthcare industry translation.

Complex Medical Terminology

Slight changes in wording can significantly impact a patient's health. For example, many words used in medicine do not have a direct translation, making it difficult to determine which words will most accurately communicate the doctor's orders and the patient's needs.


Eponyms are terms, concepts, or diseases named after a person. Many medical terms are eponyms. For example, fallopian tubes are named after Gabriello Fallopio, a 16th-century Italian physician well known for discovering and naming many human body parts. Alzheimer's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease are also examples of eponyms. It can be difficult to find accurate terminology to communicate eponyms in the medical field.

Acronyms & Abbreviations

In healthcare, abbreviations and acronyms are used to save time and space on medical records. However, this poses a challenge for translators because many abbreviations and acronyms do not translate. While there are some acronyms, like AIDS, that are fully integrated into other languages, most abbreviations and acronyms require an experienced translator who understands medical terminology, context, and applications to provide accurate translation services.

Compound Phrases, Prefixes, & Suffixes

Compound phrases such as heart failure and cardiac arrest are challenging for translators. Translators must be careful to ensure the phrase retains its meaning as they translate each word independently. Prefixes and suffixes can also pose challenges for translators. When misapplied, prefixes and suffixes can significantly change a word's meaning, which could drastically impact a patient's diagnosis and treatment.

What are best practices for accurate translation in healthcare?

In an industry where accuracy can save lives, applying best practices to ensure the accurate translation of medical documents is vital. Best practices for accurate translation include:

Completing a Needs Assessment

It is imperative to perform an internal needs assessment before hiring translation services. This will help determine, for example, what language translation is most needed at your facility, what documents require translation, and the answers to other questions relevant to a facility's patients and processes. This assessment will enable healthcare organizations to choose the best translation services to meet their specific needs.

Hiring Industry Experts

The healthcare industry needs highly skilled industry experts to perform translation. The subject matter is vast and complex and requires application across cultural nuances, regional differences, and a constantly changing global community.

Requiring a Reputation for Accuracy

Translation services in the healthcare industry must provide the highest level of accuracy. It’s important that translators have a verifiable track record of providing accurate translation.

Creating Consistency with Reference Documents

Translators should use style guides and glossaries to ensure consistency when translating healthcare documents.

Rigorous Quality Assurance

Quality assurance is a review process to find any translation errors. A quality translation service will have several levels of quality assurance checks in place.

Regulatory Compliance

The healthcare industry has strict regulatory standards for translation services. Regulations from local, national, and international levels are in place to protect patients and improve quality of care. In addition, translators must be proficient in these regulations and apply them rigorously for every translation work.

A Focus on Security

In healthcare, translation services must provide the highest level of data security. Translators must be trained to handle sensitive data, ensuring compliance with HIPAA and other requirements.

Accurate translation is fundamental to quality patient care as well as regulatory compliance. This requires the services of experts in both the languages used in translation and medical terminology. Be sure to follow the best practices discussed above to ensure you’re providing your patients accurate information, no matter what language they speak best. Learn more about translation, interpretation, and how Language Network can help you meet your organization’s needs on our blog.

About Language Network

Language Network is a language solutions company specializing in interpretation, translation, and localization services for government, healthcare, and international businesses. Language Network provides critical language access and support in over 200 languages. For more information, visit www.languagenetworkusa.com.

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