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Medical translations: when every word matters.

15.09.2022

From studies and doctors’ reports, to appraisals and clinic brochures, through to instructions for medical equipment – medical translations are as diverse as the disciplines of medicine themselves, which means that these specialist translations also have their own special requirements and characteristics.

In this article, we take a closer look at what is particularly important to consider with these specialist texts and what exactly medical expert opinions are all about.

This is what matters with medical translations

Of course, confidential handling of data, specialist knowledge and an eye for detail are of utmost importance for other specialist texts too, such as those in the areas of legal translation or financial translation. However, these components are even more important when it comes to the translation of medical texts. Every specialist medical text relates to a person’s health, our most valuable asset. It is therefore not surprising that the requirements which translators have to fulfil are extremely stringent.

Language skills

In order to be able to reproduce all the content of an expert opinion or a study down to the smallest detail, outstanding linguistic skills at native language level are required. In addition, the translator must also have excellent knowledge of the source language.

Technical knowledge

Industry-specific expertise is an absolute must when a language expert takes care of the translation of medical texts. And the different medical disciplines call for even narrower expertise. Someone who is well-versed in gynaecology is not necessarily well-versed in psychiatric matters or cancer research. Translations must be assigned to medical translators who are 100 per cent familiar with the specialist area and its vocabulary.

Thorough research

When performing medical translations, linguists with the required technical knowledge also carry out thorough research. They also check for new developments in the medical discipline concerned, and they clarify anything that isn’t entirely clear. If in doubt, they will consult the client to be on the safe side.

Working with utmost accuracy

With medical translations, every word or piece of information has a purpose. It is therefore essential that nothing is overlooked or translated even slightly wrong.

For quality assurance purposes, medical translations are carried out in accordance with the quality standard DIN EN 15038 or the international successor standard ISO 17100:2015 for translation services. This means that the translation is performed by a qualified native-speaker translator and revised by a second qualified native-speaker translator (4-eyes principle). In certain cases, the translations are also checked in terms of correct content and compliance with all formal aspects by further (medical or language) experts. After all, four or even six eyes see more than two.

Arzt verfasst ein Gutachten

Source: Romain Vignes – Unsplash

Only when all these points are fulfilled can a precise and correct translation of a medical text be ensured. It is not uncommon for a specific medical assessment case to involve the translation of several documents relating to different medical disciplines. Processing medical expert opinions can be a complicated and lengthy process. In the following section, we shed some light on the subject.

 

Medical expert opinions – from initial interview to final assessment

A medical opinion becomes necessary when assessing a benefit claim.

If an insured person applies for a disability pension, for example, or if a patient is to be reintegrated into the labour market after a long illness, medical experts assess their health condition. Such medical assessments are requested by accident or health insurance providers, cantonal disability insurance offices, or the courts. The medical assessment bodies recognised by the Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO), called “MEDAS-Stellen”, are responsible for processing patient records.

The experts (in this case the medical specialists) obtain all information from the insured person and their physicians that is needed to clarify the facts, such as how exactly their health is impaired and how their state of health is affecting their ability to work.

Should the patient not be sufficiently proficient in the relevant national language of Switzerland, interpretation of the individual doctor’s consultations comes into play. Finally, the insured person must know exactly what is involved at every step of the process. In certain cases, translation of the assessment documents is also required.

But what exactly does the process for a medical appraisal look like?

 

The path to medical expert opinions

The process of a medical evaluation can be divided into three steps.

Step 1 – preparation

In order to prepare these specific texts, various specialists conduct interviews with the insured parties, i.e. the insured persons, beneficiaries or benefit claimants. It depends on whether the assessment is mono-, bi- or polydisciplinary. After all, the patient’s condition can have several causes. In a monodisciplinary assessment, only one expert takes care of the assessment. Bi- or polydisciplinary assessments, on the other hand, are randomly assigned to experts in at least teams of two or to recognised assessment bodies.

If insured persons do not have sufficient knowledge of the relevant language, an interpreter is called in for such an assessment interview. Like the medical translator, the interpreter will have the required experience, language skills and medical knowledge in the relevant discipline.

Step 2 – assessment

After the specialists have collected all the information, carried out examinations and formed a picture of the patient’s situation, they will provide an assessment for their specialty with regard to the insured person’s ability or inability to work. In some cases, they will issue recommendations for further action.

Step 3 – consensual overall assessment

In a bi- or polydisciplinary assessment, the specialists from all relevant disciplines come together and issue a consensual overall assessment. In other words, they have to find a common denominator. This assessment is then made available to the instructing party (usually the disability insurance offices of the various cantons or the paying insurance company), which will then decide whether the insured person is entitled to benefits or not.

Verdolmetschung beim Begitachtungsgespräch

Source: Headway – Unsplash

Of course, the insured person also receives the expert opinion in a language they understand. And since it is precisely this document that will determine their subsequent life, livelihood and ability to work, a translation that is perfect in terms of content and language is extremely important.

 

Consequences of an incorrect medical translation

As already mentioned, an incorrect translation, however small, can have far-reaching consequences.

In the case of a medical report, insured persons might not receive benefits for which they would be entitled to according to the report – be it financial support, further treatment or reintegration into the labour market. There is a similar danger for benefit providers: even a forgotten word can lead to benefits being paid to an insured person to which they are not actually entitled.

But even beyond medical reports, incorrect translations of medical documents can have serious, if not fatal, consequences. For example, a tiny translation error might render the results of a medical study invalid.

Such important documents should therefore only be translated by linguistic and technical experts who fulfil the above list of criteria in their professional repertoire. Trust your translation agency in Zurich with the best translators in Switzerland and you can rest assured that your medical documents are in good hands.