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Getting More than the “Gist” Right: How to Achieve Quality Medical Document Translations

Mar 30, 2021

Quality translation involves more than “one-to-one” direct translations of individual words or phrases.

Understanding and incorporating nuance, ensuring cultural idioms retain their meaning, and conveying tone are all part of successful translation projects. However, in life sciences – particularly medical document translation – there is much less room for interpretation.

The stakes are higher for clinical trial documents, product inserts, drug labels, and medical instructions for use. Inaccurate translations can create devastating consequences for life sciences companies and the patients and medical professionals they serve. Accurate medical document translation is not a bonus – it’s a requirement.

Here’s how to improve your odds of achieving accurate translations from the outset.

Check for ISO Certifications

One way to quickly assess your translation company’s commitment to quality is to see if they are certified to the latest relevant ISO certifications. For example, ISO 17100:2015 relates specifically to the delivery of quality translation services, while ISO 13485:2016 applies to medical device companies and their suppliers. The ISO 13485 certification is only awarded to companies that have successfully implemented a quality management system that meets the medical device industry’s regulatory requirements.  Translation companies with these certifications have already established detailed processes for achieving and maintaining an elevated standard of accuracy.

Ask for linguist credentials

Ask your translation company to supply you with the professional history and experience of the linguists they plan to assign to your project. If possible, request linguists who possess verifiable experience providing medical document translation services. It’s even better if you can confirm that they also have experience working in your specific field (e.g. medical devices, pharmaceuticals, etc.)

To further promote accuracy, you should request to work with linguists who possess special therapeutic experience related to your materials (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, prosthetics).

At Morningside, we take accuracy extremely seriously. Protecting our clients against liability or compliance violations are among our top priorities.

Never compromise accuracy in pursuit of speed

Unlike other translation projects, quality medical document translation cannot – and should not – be rushed. Ensuring accuracy requires:

  • reviewing materials multiple times (by more than one linguist)
  • checking for correct formatting
  • making sure the layout never changes the meaning
  • confirming translated materials meet all in-country regulatory requirements

We advise against dividing work between multiple translation companies as a means of achieving a faster turnaround. Doing so increases the potential for inaccuracy and can compromise consistency.

Instead, work with a single provider – and keep them in the loop. Advise them on upcoming projects. Provide specific details about project type, anticipated length, and details regarding the documents’ end-use. Knowing this information early on will help your translation company assign the most qualified individuals and establish an appropriate timeline for the job.

Keep in mind: If your translation company pushes back against a rushed timeline for a medical document translation project, it’s a sign they are looking out for you. Quality translation companies are not willing to risk your reputation – or theirs – by accelerating the process for such essential information.

Beware of low-cost providers

For many translation projects, price and turnaround time are usually the two most significant considerations. However, the single most important factor in medical document translation is accuracy. Because the stakes are so high (in some cases, life-or-death), accuracy is non-negotiable.

Therefore, because medical document translation accuracy is so closely tied to time spent by many individuals, there are very few (if any) options to cut corners. Your translation company may be able to supply some budget-trimming suggestions such as using Translation Memory tools or client glossaries, but if a translation bid comes in extremely low for a medical document project, the company may be taking unnecessary risks or bypassing necessary steps to produce the deliverables that you need (e.g. skipping extra review or excluding your images).

Read more: The human factor in medical document translation.

Remember what’s at stake

While translation accuracy is always necessary, other industries have a higher tolerance for ambiguity. Medical documents are held to a higher standard. There is no room for ambiguity or error.

In addition to the potential for harm to end-users, poor quality medical document translations can create other serious consequences for businesses. Some adverse outcomes include compliance violations, rejection by regulators, lawsuits from end-users, reputation-harming negative publicity, or expensive packaging/label/insert re-printing.

Obtaining meticulous medical document translations is about more than making information clear: it’s about shielding your end-users from harm and protecting your business from avoidable exposure.

Contact us to discuss how our proven life sciences translation services can help your company.

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