Top Types of Medical Translation

There are 5 types of medical translation the healthcare industry depends on everyday. If you have ever visited a doctor’s office or hospital with someone who doesn’t speak English ( or at least not very well), chances are you know the drill.

First comes the paperwork. Insurance information, residence, payment, and so on. Next, the actual visit begins. That usually means a nurse or assistant stops by to do a quick assessment of the situation. After that, it’s time to see the doctor. This is when communication is most important. If the physician doesn’t understand what the patient is saying — and even if you think that you can act as the interpreter — there is a legitimate risk that something vital to the patient’s health may not become properly disseminated.

It is frustrating, right? You tried your best. You know both languages, and figured that would be enough to get the appropriate points across. But it is hard to do. Regardless of how firm your grasp of a language might be, unless you are educated and trained when it comes to medical vernacular, it can be a very costly gamble to try and involve yourself in the dynamic.


Because medical translation is a critical component of all healthcare services and it requires highly-trained individuals to get the job done. 

Those on the outside of the linguistics eco-system tend to think that medical translation (or medical interpretation, for that matter) simply necessitates a baseline knowledge of medicine, or perhaps even a prior relationship with a patient, doctor, or both. 

In reality, medical translation revolves around operating in a fast-paced environment that compels translators to pivot to different fields of medicine multiple times a day, demonstrate a strong and functional background in two or more languages, and on a continuous basis research and study emerging therapies and treatment plans of which patients may be unaware. 

In short, they do a whole lot more than convert one language into another orally or via the written word — and virtually every medical translation professional who is employed has been educated, trained, and certified in the discipline. 

But that’s not the most interesting part. What is? That there are several forms of medical translation for healthcare that help patients and doctors reach common ground on a daily basis. 

Top 5 Types of Medical Translation

1. General Information

“General information” encompasses every kind of material that is likely not of high consequence. Web domains, advertisements, emails, and even nowadays, text alerts fall under this category. On the surface, none of this may appear quite pressing, but it is. After all, how else do patients learn about which healthcare facilities are worth checking out where they live?

2. Academic Research & Exploration

Medicine means science, and sciences means research — and a lot of it. Believe it or not, but there are plenty of normal, everyday citizens who consume this information, although research and development are much more at home on the university level. Professors and clinicians regularly solicit the services of a medical translation team to pore over their documentation and translate it for audiences around the globe in different mediums.

3. Educational & Training Curricula

Many, many resources are invested in educational material. It has to be this way. Similar to #4, where studies and procedures are translated for audiences/patients, educational content — be it in textbooks, presentations, or audio/video aids — is directed towards actual medical students. That does not mean only those preparing to become doctors benefit from this service. Medical translators themselves depend on training assets to be consumable, as well.

4. Labels & Instructions

Whether it is the little blurb of text on a prescription, an entire leaflet, or a notebook-size piece of paper displaying a laundry list of instructions, there is no avoiding how imperative #2 is to a medical translator or team of linguists. This is one avenue in which translation by an actual pro must be rendered. Just a single, tiny mistake can result in tremendous consequences. As you might suspect, the stakes are higher in some regions of the country than others, particularly those with a higher immigration population. 

There are clinics and hospitals that employ medical translators for this very purpose, but unfortunately, not enough pharmacies do. The good news? More and more pharmaceutical conglomerates are beginning to change that, which is bridging an important gap between patients and vital prescription information (as well as giving medical translators a lot more work!).

5. Admission/Discharge

The most common and frequent interactions available for patients are when they arrive at a healthcare facility, and when they leave. In the case of an emergency with a non-English-speaking patient, the second-most important person in the equation is the medical translator. Those situations tend to unfold rapidly. A translator has to not only relay information from the patient to the admission staff, but also to nurses and doctors. The circumstances can be very serious; but even if they are not, it is almost always fluid. Medical translators have to be able to focus on multiple items at once and maintain accuracy in everything that they say. 

Imagine what it’s like: a patient enters a hospital, complaining of an ailment — only they don’t speak English. The admissions nurse needs their basic information, which of course includes insurance. Then the patient is asked about their symptoms, medical history, medicines they may be taking. All of this is happening upon arrival. 

Fast-forward to discharge, and what you have is all of the above plus a some items from #2 on this list. 

Each and every facet of medical translation is beholden to its own reasons for why it might be important, but #1 brings them all together. Admission can determine the outcome of a patient’s care before they ever sit in front of a doctor, and discharge sets the course for their treatment going forward. 

Timothy Hands – Writer at The Language Doctors


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