Role of Accuracy in Professional Medical Translation

We recently expanded. The medical translation was always among our offerings but a new team on the floor working exclusively in the pharmaceutical, prescription, research paper, and patent translation transforms Overseas DTP into your ideal partner for getting professional medical translation online. Now we have a large team of certified professionals on board who are domain experts to boot. Their native fluency and our time-tested proofreading structure will ensure that you receive correct, standards compliant, and legible translation 100 percent of the time. With promotion out of the way, we can now get down to the subject of the week — importance of accuracy for our translators and everyone in the field for providing quality work.

Errors are Unacceptable in Medical Translation

If you are a toy manufacturer in China exporting inexpensive lego blocks, you can let anyone with passable fluency in a foreign language to translate the user guide. The parents might have a laugh at the manual but a badly translated set of instructions will not prevent children from enjoying the game. Medical translation does not offer such liberties. After all, people’s lives are at risk. Even one wrongly translated word can wreck someone’s life. You may remember the case of Willie Ramirez if you are a regular reader on this blog. We covered it in November last year.

The Cost of Mistakes is High

Ramirez was 18 in 1980 when he complained of a headache. When he was taken to a South Florida hospital in a comatose state, his Spanish-speaking family was with him. Because the doctors spoke only English, an interpreter was called in. The interpreter translated “intoxicado” to “intoxicated” instead of “poisoned.” That little mistake ruined someone’s life. Ramirez is alive but lives as a quadriplegic. You will never ever want something like that happens because of you. It can not only be unwholesome for the end user but also affect your career. The hospital where Ramirez was taken had to pay $70 million in compensation. We can only guess what would have happened to the interpreter’s career.

Vocabulary Plays a Crucial Role in Accuracy

Plenty of ways are available to prevent errors from slipping into a document. Language and subject matter experts can proofread documents; the translation agency can stick to the guidelines in translation quality standards, such as ISO 9001, EN 15038, and ISO 13485; and the translator can be vigilant with language use. Grammar is rarely an issue for educated native translators but vocabulary can be tricky.

Like most fields, the healthcare sector has its own idiom which takes years to get used to. To complicate life further, the idiom is not steady. It is constantly updated in the light of new scientific research. Translators have a duty to stay on top of new findings. Tools can help.

Five Tools to Help You in with Lexicon

Researching terminology is important—if not the most important—part of every medical translator’s professional life. There are hundreds of tools to help them; some useful and others not so good. Overseas DTP’s veteran translators share their five favorites.


This dictionary is capable of finding even the most arcane acronyms in a clinical trial and patent translations. It is comprehensive and contains many definitions. You might find it useful if you often translate from English.


This is a humongous database of scientific articles from nearly all the world’s most prestigious medical journals. It is a popular repository for scientific references. Hence, if you are looking for accurate terminology to translate medical research papers, Pubmed can be your best friend. The only downside of this resource is its paywall. Complete articles are available only to subscribers.


Pubmed is helpful but difficult to parse, even for experts. ScienceDaily can help. The site has summaries of research on different subjects. Using it can help you clear confusion on terminology when you are translating.


This is a great resource for medical translators. The website is bilingual, with plenty of articles in English and French, and free. Because the website belongs to the US National Library of Medicine, the information on it is sound and good. You will not want to miss bookmarking Medline.


Outside the United States, LILACS is an important and comprehensive index of scientific and technical literature. It is focused on natural science research from Latin America and the Caribbean. You will find it useful if your medical translation job includes translating into or from Spanish or Portuguese.


Accuracy is essential in medical translation. Adherence to international standards and a sound structure of proofreading by language and subject matter experts helps maintain accuracy. For the translators’ part, they can use the resources mentioned in this post to improve the quality of their work.


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