How to Make Medical Translation Easy

When you choose to accommodate your multilingual audience (either because the law requires it or you realize what a good idea it is for your business), there are some medical industry best practices you should know. Here’s a step-by-step guide to medical translation.

1. Do An Internal-Needs Assessment

Before you find a qualified and professional Language Services Provider (LSP) for your healthcare translation needs, ask some critical questions, including:

  • What languages do you need to translate?
  • What types of documents will you need to have translated?
  • What format are the documents in (e.g., Word, Excel, PDF, etc.)?
  • What regulations must you follow?

2. Allocate Appropriate Resources

While some medical plan providers may have a cultural and linguistics department or coordinator, others may not have staff devoted to this process. No matter the organization’s internal structure, it’s essential to allocate an appropriate budget to hire a professional LSP.

3. Educate Yourself About Language Services Providers

When it comes to selecting a Language Services Provider, get well-acquainted with their translation process and quality assurance procedures, as well as the costs. Make a list of questions you should ask a potential translation company. Any serious LSP will be excited to partner with you and to walk you through the initial and ongoing steps, which is the best way to learn about translation and to create a lasting partnership.

4. Choose A Professional, Experienced Language Services Provider

Using bilingual employees to perform translations puts you at risk. At best, you might end up with inaccurate translations; at worst, you’d be breaking the law. Also, adding that extra responsibility to a bilingual employee takes them away from other vital projects. A professional medical translation company is the smart choice and can help ensure accuracy and consistency. A quality healthcare translation agency may not be the cheapest, but it will be able to find ways to save you money. For example, a professional medical translation agency will use translation memory software and offer year-over-year savings and volume discounts.

5. Plan The Translation Process

Work with your Language Services Provider to determine your process, what steps will take place each time a document is translated, and how your specific needs will be met. Establishing a clear and detailed timeline from the beginning helps both sides move through the process smoothly.

6. Coordinate Translation From The Top Down

By involving the head of the Cultural and Linguistics department at the beginning of your medical translation project, you can save time and frustration in the long run. Get this person involved in your process from the very beginning and keep them informed throughout the project. This will ensure consistency throughout all documents and make for a smoother project.

7. Create Style Guides and Glossaries.

Style guides and glossaries will increase the overall quality and consistency of your documents. These reference files are usually compiled manually. A glossary contains important terms with their preferred translations, and the style guide tells translators about linguistic and stylistic preferences, such as the audience and tone of the document. The glossary includes recurrent words/phrases that need to be translated the same way to make sense in the target language. At Avantpage we provide all healthcare clients with customizable style guides and glossaries at the start of our relationship.

8. Standardize Vital Documents

Vital documents contain information that is critical for accessing the provider or agency services and/or benefits. Some examples include letters or notices that require a response from the customer or documents that inform customers of free language assistance. Vital documents can also include applications, consent forms and letters, or other template-based correspondence. A non-standard document might contain information specific to one person, to an event, or any other evolving subject matter. If you need to have documents such as these translated, first standardize the English versions of these forms. Then, you can submit these documents for translations early.

9. Design And Write Documents Appropriately

Assuming your audience may only read at the elementary school level, keep information written for the consumer as simple and clear as possible. This will also help you when it comes time to have documents translated. Documents that require certain wording for legal purposes can still be written in words everyone can understand—it may just take a little extra effort. It is important to remember that if a translation is required to be at a certain grade level, the English text should also be provided at that same level. Avantpage can lower the reading level as an additional service.

10. Be An Active Part Of The Translation Process

To ensure that you get the greatest value out of your translation services, be an active part of the process. If you have a primary LSP, consider having a backup available in case of emergencies.

Work closely with them at all times. Join professional organizations that will help you stay on top of changes to the law. When you anticipate regulatory changes, it will be easier to comply.

11. Design Appropriate Internal Review Processes

Use common standards to evaluate quality. The Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation by the American Society for Testing and Materials is mainly used in the United States and will give you a good starting point to discuss the quality assurance process with your LSP. If your company works in Europe, you may need to use EN 15038 as a standard instead.

12. Look Ahead To Future Projects

After you’ve completed your healthcare translation project, it will become clear how translation is more than just compliance. It’s a tool to reach new markets. Quality translations can be part of an investment strategy that will eventually have a major payoff.

By following this process, you can ensure a successful medical translation project.


At Avantpage our experienced team can help guide you through the translation process and make it fast and easy. To find out more about our services or to get a free quote, Email us at sales@avantpage.com or call us at 1-530-750-2040, extension 6.

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