Introductory Guide to Medical Notes Translation


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In large cities and multicultural areas around the world, healthcare providers often have to assist foreign tourists or recent immigrants. And, with the rise of medical tourism, the need for medical translation services is highly likely to increase.

In these cases, medical practitioners will need to access documents that may not be in the language they speak. Access to these documents will be especially important if the foreign patient has underlying conditions or ongoing healthcare difficulties.

This is where medical notes translation enters the picture. We can define medical notes translation as the rendering of medical notes from one language into another. When we’re dealing with medical information, precision and proper terminology handling are crucial, so putting our project in the hands of a trained specialist (or even better, a world-class medical translation company) can make a world of difference.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the main challenges that this type of project usually carries, as well as some key practices that linguists should have in mind when handling medical notes.

reasons to travel for medical treatment

Twisted Calligraphy & Odd Abbreviations

It is widely known that doctors tend to have twisted calligraphy. This occurs consistently across cultures and languages. And, while there are numberless possible reasons, one thing is for certain: medical notes are usually difficult to read. Those who work with doctors are more accustomed to that, but, what if someone needs to translate a medical note because they broke their leg in France and they need to go to the hospital in Germany?

Calligraphy adds up to odd abbreviations, which may be difficult to elucidate. While there exist some abbreviation databases, they may vary across practices, facilities, and countries.

Large healthcare providers and clinics tend to handle their documentation digitally, making doctors produce all medical notes on a computer. This spares you the trouble of elucidating obscure, spontaneous acronyms, and medical abbreviations. But, what if this is not the case?

When dealing with handwritten medical notes, we could count on OCR software, to turn scanned documents into editable text. But OCR software can be inefficient when dealing with convoluted handwriting. In these cases, ethical and professional standards demand that we render the whole text illegible, and inform our client of the difficulty to achieve an accurate translation. When there’s such a high chance of mistranslating, you may consider contacting the doctor who issued the document or a member of the same clinical staff for help.

Medical abbreviations

Terminology Handling

As we previously noted, medical translators should have a deep understanding of medical terminology. There are languages for which ignoring the meaning of medical terms can lead to particularly meaning-altering mistakes. For example, the Spanish word “estadío” (stage or phase of a process) can be understood as the word without the stressed i “estadio” (sports venue).

There are two key tools that medical translation professionals need when facing a medical notes translation project: Subject area expertise, and a consistent, carefully established glossary. Let’s take a closer look at how medical translation processes tend to unfold.

The Medical Notes Translation Process

How should we approach our medical notes translation process? As a first step, it’s wise to check local regulations regarding the proper formatting or handling of medical documents.  The preparation process should continue with the creation of a glossary, for which we may consult a medical specialist or relevant literature, depending on the project’s requirements, size, and scope. 

We should have a very clear idea of the context and of the discipline of the medical professional who issued these medical notes. For instance, knowing that these documents were created by a cardiologist who was assisting a chronically ill patient could result in a sharper and more accurate translation. 

Once we carried out the main translation of the text, there’s the need for proofreading. This involves not only the translator’s revision but also a consistency check from a dedicated quality assurance team. It’s important to make sure that the translation hasn’t rendered clear statements vague or ambiguous. In ideal conditions, this quality assurance team will include a subject area expert who can make a detail-oriented revision of the text.

Medical notes translation process

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Final Remarks

Summing it up, you want to streamline the medical notes translation process to make sure you’re being accurate and diligent. Knowledge of the medical jargon, supported by a consistent and reliable glossary will make it possible for you to translate accurately without compromising the project’s timeframe.

OCR scanning won’t work with most handwritten text. And if your source material isn’t legible, it’s of paramount importance to consult your doctor to dispel any doubts or misinterpretations. The reason is simple: the missing information could be crucial. If there are considerable linguistic (particularly alphabetical) similarities between the source and target languages, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor to see if they can decipher the tangled calligraphy.

While this also applies to medical notes, when working with complex medical records covering a patient’s evolution through a long period, you will need a rigorous, schematic workflow. Proper organization will help you handle the project’s heterogeneous base of documents and will make things easier during the editing stage. Try to work with consistent and editable file formats (such as PDF, XLIFF or DOC) whenever possible.

When dealing with lengthy projects, there’s a lot to be gained from using cutting-edge glossary management software. Technology is definitely a competitive advantage. Leading tools have collaborative features that can facilitate the translation process and ensure consistent terminology management.

the challenges of medical notes translation

Overall, medical document translation is a process that involves a lot of knowledge and skill. If you feel that you lack the expertise or tools to handle this type of project, don’t hesitate to contact an expert. bayantech is a leading medical translation services provider that has worked with healthcare industry titans such as the Arabian Healthcare Group, Abbott, and the Mayo Clinic. With over 80 thousand projects in 185 languages, bayantech is a world-class option for your medical translation needs.

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bayantech is a leading language service provider. Since 2004, we have been providing ISO-certified, smart, and effective translation and localization solutions to major global businesses and organizations, helping our clients smoothly cross the frontiers of language and culture, communicate effectively worldwide, and expand their markets.


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bayantech is a leading professional language service provider, offering certified, high-quality, and smart translation and localization solutions in more than 260 different languages