Major Obstacles in Health Care and Medical Translation

Last Updated On: December 9, 2022

inTranslation Skills

Health Care and Medical Translation

All forms of translation are at times a challenge, but medical and healthcare translations are more challenging than most.  Medical translations help to connect businesses and customers and some professionals as they work together to improve the lives and health outcomes of people.

Medical translations are crucial for disseminating not just medical knowledge but any new medical discoveries too. Medical translations are critical for providing healthcare to both foreigners and minorities. Medical translators face several challenges some of which are related to medical terminology, readability, medical texts equivalents, and the unique features of medical language such as the use of the following:

  • eponyms,
  • acronyms, abbreviations,
  • and use of compound words.

The use of eponyms

Much of the medical terminology is made up of eponyms such as fallopian tubes, Lou Gehrig disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, the Adam’s Apple, Jefferson fracture, Bard-Parker scalpel, or Heller myotomy. These are medical terms that are derived from human anatomy parts, symptoms, and signs of diseases, medical procedures, or medical devices. They could also include geographical place names such as Lyme disease or fictional characters like Othello’s syndrome. These eponyms can be difficult to translate as it is difficult to find matches in other languages.


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    Abbreviations and acronyms 

    The medical arena is full of abbreviations and acronyms which aren’t always easy to translate.

    Compound words 

    Patient safety and heart failure are both examples of compound phrases that are often found in use in basic medical English. When translating into other languages, however, these commonly used phrases may have syntactic shifts or phrase changes. Suffixes and prefixes are common too, most of which derive from Greek or Latin.

    Not all translators are capable of doing medical translations. The translator must be a subject matter specialist who has a background in the different parts of the medical field

    Medical language

    Medical translations must be completely accurate because lives are involved. Medical terminology is precise, whether it is to do with medicines, a patient’s health state, or the presence of a disease. The medical translator must be proficient in using different languages and should have the correct medical experience in a particular field as well as have a sound knowledge of technical terminology. 

    Interpreting is a challenge for medical institutions as a patient might not be able to speak the language, 


    Medical translations cover a diverse field so a translator who has gained expertise in hematology can’t be expected to translate medical documents that deal with cardiology.

    Intended audience

    Generally, medical terminology is used mostly by those working in the medical community but if the intended audience is the patient community translations need to be simplified so that all those concerned can understand. Specialized terms will be used when the intended audience for the translations is the people who read the following:

    • research papers; 
    • imaging reports;
    • discharge summaries;
    • case studies;
    • case notes.

    If medical translations are to be used between a medical expert and a non-specialist, like the communication between a patient and doctor such as a patient’s fact sheets, an informed consent document, or drug information documents, the medical translator is required to use not such complex language. The text translation should be in easy-to-understand terminology which is explained in detail. The medical translator should be told the intended audience for the medical documents. Experts and practitioners involved in providing medicine and healthcare will be able to understand complex terminology but the language a doctor uses for instructions given to nurses would be different from the instructions doctors dispatch to patients.

    The knowledge of a medical translator for healthcare translations means he or she can appropriately prepare the language of the translation to suit the intended audience. 

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