Your Quick Guide to Medical Document Translation Services


Most global healthcare professionals have faced the need to have documents available in multiple languages. And yet, there are currently no universally accepted guidelines or standards for managing health document translation services.

As a result most global healthcare organizations are forced to translate documents on a case-by-case basis or—what’s worse—scramble to find available interpreters during health crises and emergency situations. All too often the burden of linguistic tasks and decision making falls on bilingual personnel who lack the experience or skills to manage the process effectively.

Fortunately, setting up a system to ensure that important healthcare documents get professionally translated is simple. It just takes a bit of time, effort, and research. The purpose of this post is to give global healthcare organizations a quick guide to setting up a reliable translation management system.


Before we dive into the document translation services management and quality control guidelines, let’s consider some of the translation challenges global healthcare organizations face.

First, global health organizations address a broad audience. Not only must these organizations pay close attention to governmental, regional, and institutional regulations, they often cater to a wide variety of stakeholders including patients, physicians, research scientists, and donors.

Translating medical communications, such as those involved in promoting a pharmaceutical product for example, for such a diverse audience often requires a team of qualified healthcare translators.

And this leads to the second big challenge: finding qualified healthcare translators with the right skillset. Accurately translating medical documents requires a native or near-native level of language proficiency, advanced critical thinking skills, and a deep cultural understanding in both the source and target languages.

Additionally, professional medical translators have subject matter knowledge and are trained in terminology research, which is especially important for languages with several regional variations.

Quick Guide

Now, keeping the above challenges in mind, let’s discuss the guidelines. Note that the following considerations only scratch the surface. For a more comprehensive guide, we recommend The International Medical Interpreters Association Guide on Medical Translation.

1. Which documents are priorities?

All documents considered “vital” ought to be available in several different languages. This includes any legal documents, as well as pharmaceutical labels, informational pamphlets, and posters being displayed in public areas.

Beyond these vital documents, to determine which documents are high priorities, global health organizations should first perform a needs assessment by answering the following questions:

  • How frequently are translations being requested for each document and which departments or audiences are requesting translations?
  • Has the frequency been documented? If not, how might we begin gathering the data?
  • Which health subjects are adequately covered by publicly available translations? Which are unique to our organization and require professional document translation services?

It is also a good idea to consult regional data from local NGO’s, government agencies, and regional institutions, such as census bureaus, to anticipate the needs of your organization based on what other similar organizations provide.

2. Quality assurance tips.

Once an organization has a strategy for getting those crucial documents translated and protocol for any future documents, it’s time to figure out a system for document review. This procedure should also be carefully monitored. Cases abound where bilingual staff have modified professionally translated text, with the most benign intentions, only to introduce errors. Such mistakes can be quite costly to these organizations.

If someone questions the text of a professionally translated document, the best plan of action is to contact the translation vendor for clarification or have a second vendor do a thorough review. It may also help for the appropriate personnel to become familiar with widely accepted guidelines and standards. There are some very helpful online resources available. See for example ISO International Association of Standardization, and

3. Preparing healthcare sources for document translation services.

Besides finding the right vendor to provide your global healthcare organization with document translation services, the most important step you can take to ensure quality translations is to prepare your source documents carefully.

A source document should not only be factual, it should also be edited for content accuracy and correct language. Keep in mind that translators are not trained content editors. Translating is a big enough job without adding content editing to the docket. So, if your translator receives a confusing passage, it is likely that the translated text will be just as confusing as the original. You don’t want to leave it up to your translator to reach out to you for clarification or rephrasing.

When you are sure that your original document is free of content errors, the following should also be taken into account:

  • The document should avoid figurative language (e.g., idioms, adages, sports references, and other culturally dependent text).
  • The document should be written at the appropriate reading level (again, consider your audience).
  • To maintain consistency for large translation projects (e.g., medical device manuals) set standards for terminology and create a style guide.
  • Create a version of your forms that allows for dual-language (e.g., side-by-side or line-by-line) printing whenever possible.
  • Avoid complicated formatting (e.g., text boxes and frames, automatic numbering, data boxes, and bullet points).

Having to adjust for any of the above issues takes a lot of time and can increase your desktop publishing costs significantly. Some of them may also prevent your translation professionals from using certain automatic tools that both improve accuracy and shorten the amount of time they have to spend on your project.


We hope that this quick guide will help to streamline the process of using professional translation services. Of course, every vendor has their own preferences and procedures, so for the absolute best results, we always recommend talking directly with your translation team.

At Alpha Omega Translations, we have been assisting organizations like yours with medical translation services for more than 15 years. We would love to be your preferred vendor. Contact us today to receive your free quote.


Category: Translation Services

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