Quality Healthcare Translation Services: The ‘Why’ and the ‘How’

In our most recent blog post, we provided a quick guide to medical document translation services. Expanding upon a key point in that guide, this post takes ahealthcare translation services more in-depth look at the special quality assurance issues related to healthcare translation services.

As with any other translation need, accuracy, clarity, and consistency are top priorities in healthcare. However, given the delicate nature of health services, interpreting and translation in this area deserves special care. But before we can address the essential steps for ensuring quality healthcare interpreting and translation services, it is useful to consider some context.

The ‘Why’

There are several reasons why providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services in healthcare is necessary. Some reasons pertain to social justice, while others pertain to standards of business.

The social justice side emphasizes diversity and improving standards of care for underserved populations in the US and beyond. The business side focuses on strengthening business practices and business development.

The National Center for Cultural Competence has identified the following reasons illustrating the importance of health care translation services:

1. To respond to demographic changes in the US.

2. To eliminate racial, ethnic, and cultural disparities in health status.

3. To improve the quality of health services and care.

4. To meet legislative, regulatory, and accreditation mandates.

5. To gain a competitive edge in the market place.

6. To decrease the likelihood of liability and malpractice claims.

When we consider how much is at stake, it becomes clear that leaving healthcare translation services as a matter of improvisation is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to ensure you provide the highest quality, professional translations to your audiences.

The ‘How’

Making the decision to provide multilingual services for your patients, research study participants, or global healthcare audiences is a big step. If you want to make the most of the time, effort, and resources that you put into finding the right healthcare translation services, it is crucial to take the following steps:

1. Find Qualified Linguistic Professionals

It pays to be an educated consumer of healthcare translation services. Familiarize yourself with the preferred translation process of your Language Services Provider (LSP) and procedures for guaranteeing quality results, as well as the costs. It should be obvious that the cheapest option may not be the best for your company, but professional providers will work with you to find cost-saving measures wherever possible.

Although understanding an LSP’s processes and procedures can provide some clues to whether their linguistic professionals are qualified, there is no substitute for verification.

Industry experts agree that medical translators must have a native, formal level of language proficiency and cultural knowledge in both the source and target languages. Though this is still debated, linguistic proficiency seems necessary as well because a target text produced by a physician without theoretical training in medical writing may not be reader-friendly.

Additionally, the most efficient translators have linguistic competence in both general and specialized languages. Specially trained translators (for example, supported by the IMIA) often provide more accurate, clear, and consistent translations than medical professionals.

Finally, become familiar with terms that the health care translation services industry use to denote different levels of credentials. Don’t simply assume that the translators you are working with have gone through the appropriate training. Always ask for documentation.

2. Consider Issues Specific to Your Audience

Remember: not all audiences are the same. Whereas your organization’s target audience may be scientists with advanced degrees, other organizations need medical documents to be translated into language that is easily understood by the general population in their target market. So, it is always a smart idea to consider the specific needs of your audience and your industry carefully before developing translation management systems.

For example, if your organization offers medical reports for NGOs working in Africa, consider the unique challenges facing African interpreters. Besides there being over 2,000 spoken languages within Africa, in many of these languages there is no single word for expressing common medical terms such as “cancer” or “clinical depression.” Keep these specifics in mind as you choose your language services providers.

3. Play an Active Role

Now that you have done your research and found the right healthcare translation services provider (or providers) to suit your needs, make sure the relationship continues to work for all parties. Be an active participant in the process and work closely with your LSP at all times. If you work with more than one translator or provider be sure to coordinate your efforts and stay organized.

Assign a point-person to communicate with your LSP and ensure consistency throughout. All communications should flow through this point-person to avoid confusion. You could also assign someone to oversee the design and creation of original documents in line with expectations. Make sure to closely follow the guidelines provided by your language professionals.

In addition, take an active role in making sure your specific regulatory needs are met. Your interpreters and translators know their craft, but they may not know all the relevant laws in your industry as well as you do. Health Care law is complicated. So don’t expect your LSP to make legal recommendations. Instead, communicate regulations in straightforward terms and join professional organizations to help you stay on top of any changes to the law.

Finally, look to the future of translation in your industry. If you focus on helping healthcare professionals provide care for underserved populations, anticipate demographic changes and get out ahead of them. If your focus is on strengthening business relationships, consider investment in translation services as part of a wider strategy for expanding your reach around the globe.


Given that healthcare translation services impact both the quality of care and the strength of business development, there are many incentives to take the essential steps to ensure high quality. For a more detailed guide to advancing National policies and practices in relation to quality standards, download our free report.

At Alpha Omega Translations, we intentionally design translation methods to empower the organizations we work with. Contact us today to discuss your healthcare translation needs!

Category: Translation Services

About Alpha Omega Translations: Alpha Omega Translations specializes in providing foreign language solutions to all industry sectors. Our services include multilingual translation, multilingual website development, localization, interpretation, transcription, editing, glossary development, desktop publishing and design, writing, publication management, and marketing communications. View author profile.

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