The reality of translation in general and healthcare translation in particular is that a cultural mistake in your translation can be damaging. In the case of hamburgers or ice cream, you risk your brand reputation. In healthcare, you imperil the very health of patients.
A recent article in eCommerce Times explores the sometimes overlooked reality that while the Internet is an exceedingly easy way to reach your audience, cultural accuracy is just as critical in your online communications.
Take the example cited by the article in which ice cream leaders Ben and Jerry inadvertently named a flavor “Black and Tan.” Unfortunately, they didn’t realize that the expression referred to British soldiers known for their cruelty in the fight for Ireland’s independence. Their Irish customers weren’t pleased. A similar sensitivity to the history and unique cultural touchstones of your patients is a necessary ingredient in successful healthcare translation.
Also important is the hiring of an experienced language services provider. Simply relying on someone on the staff who “speaks the language” or turning to one of the online translation engines is almost sure to lead to problems.
Plus, such options cannot help with critical website decisions like choosing an international-ready technology solution or ensuring an appropriate user experience. Finding the best answer often requires an expert’s help asking the right questions.
There a great many things that can compromise an otherwise thoughtful, well-intentioned healthcare translation effort. We’ve discussed a number on this blog, including failing to develop a translation process, ignoring cultural nuance, etc. Literacy level is another.
To establish the literacy levels of your patient communities you need to do your research. It’s best to first determine their reading level. Does the audience include many well-educated political asylees, or is it mostly migrant workers with little schooling? In either case, your materials should reflect that reality.
For some audiences with low literacy levels it might actually be more effective to work with an oral interpreter as opposed to written translation. The Somali language, for example, only adopted the Latin alphabet in 1972. Due to the fairly new standardization, there may be a wide linguistic variance. The Nuer language of Ethiopia also has several dialects, with some not including a written form.
A good place to start is to speak with members of these communities themselves. They will have the best insider knowledge and will be able to help guide you. You might also consult any local immigrant or refugee organizations and churches as they are often well-versed in the needs of their communities.
And, of course, as always, we recommend checking with your language services provider. That’s what they’re there for.
Take a trip to Europe and you’re quickly struck by the multilingual approach many of those nations take to communicating with their publics. It is understood that access, be it to a restaurant, a freeway onramp or a hospital, is only possible with effective communication. And effective communication, for many, is not achieved in the national language.
The E.U. has actually stated that all of its citizens should learn at least two foreign languages. This, it is hoped, will promote and support linguistic diversity. The E.U. publication, “Speaking for Europe,” is very clear on the subject: “The ability to communicate in several languages is a great benefit for individuals, organisations and companies alike.”
Not surprisingly given this focus, the E.U. has the largest translation service in the world, translating more than 2 million pages a year and an average of 3 millions words a day. Up until 2004, the E.U. even footed the translation bill for member nations.
What’s clear is that language is a key to access and participation. And nowhere is this more important, and more potentially critical, than in healthcare. Until the U.S. government mandates that we, too, learn multiple languages, we must continue to provide healthcare translation to those who don’t speak the national language.
More than 25 percent of births in the U.S. are to Spanish-speaking parents. These children are very likely going to grow up to be completely bilingual. Given the global nature of the economy, this must be seen as a competitive advantage. But we must first ensure, via effective healthcare translation, that these families get the healthcare they need.
In a recent survey entitled “Health & Wellbeing of Hispanic Families,” we can see how important that goal truly is. For example, of those polled, 96 percent want information, tips and content about health and wellness. But most significantly, 74 percent want that information in Spanish.
Also critical is where you communicate with this growing audience. The survey underscores the critical role of the Internet with Spanish-speaking communities. Even low-income moms are online searching for information and seeking answers to healthcare questions.
One important facet revealed during the survey is that Hispanic moms are potentially powerful marketers and communicators for healthcare. If their trust is earned through language access and cultural awareness and sensitivity, they can become powerful liaisons between healthcare and their families and communities.
We’ve talked a bit in the past about what to look for when searching for or reviewing a language service provider (LSP). It’s an important decision as whoever you select will play an important role in how – and how effectively – you communicate with your patients.
While a mistranslated ad or piece of website copy for a company can discourage a sale, the same error with healthcare materials can have very real impact on the patient’s health, not to mention the costly settlements that can follow. So, it is critical to make the right choice.
For example, the agency should be familiar with government policy and regulatory compliance, including JCAHO, Title VI and HIPAA. Not only does contribute to a greater assurance that your materials will comply in all languages, but it enables the LSP to serve as not just a vendor, but as your communications partner.
Ask the LSP if they’re familiar with the following kinds of documents, all of which are likely to figure in your healthcare translation:
• Hospital release and consent forms
• Handbooks and patient education materials
• Patient billing and instruction
• Medical and immunization records
• Marketing materials
• Web sites
• Benefit summaries
• EOC documents
If they’re not, remember that your LSP, whoever it is, will be an important part of your patients’ healthcare team.
One needs a computer just to store all the new communication terms being made possible by the computer. And the Internet of course. One of the newer neologisms would have to be “crowdsourcing.” Haven’t heard of it? Chances are you will more and more.
All crowdsourcing means is to take a task that is typically performed by a single person, and outsourcing it to a group or community of people via the web. It is proving, in many settings, to be a powerful way for getting work done.
In a recent post on the Global Watchtower blog, a variety of innovative translation-related crowdsourcing efforts are highlighted. Among them is the incorporation of the tactic to translate the writer Dan Brown’s new book. By cutting the novel into six parts, publishers avoid relinquishing the entire book before it goes on sale and therefore protecting it from ending up on file-sharing networks.
Other examples include a community called the Eco Team that translates each issue of the Economist into Chinese, a group of comic book fans that translates manga comics, and Cucumis, a community of translators that rates each other’s translations.
Meanwhile, online tools like Facebook and LinkedIn as well companies including Microsoft, Sun and Plaxo are working on community translation efforts. So what does all this mean for your healthcare translation? Good question, and a fitting one to take to your language service provider.
In the last post I talked a bit about home-based tools like American Well that are developing as healthcare seeks to finds its way forward. Similar innovations are of course taking place within hospitals as well. Employed properly, they could prove incredibly helpful to limited English proficient (LEP) patients.
TeleHealth Services, which has been working in the industry for more than 50 years, is one example. The company designs, implements and maintains interactive healthcare televisions, staff and patient education systems, and other communication tools. They are currently pursuing a home-based video education system as well.
From a quick look at the site, the company does seem to be including LEP patients to some degree. Its television healthcare educational content is offered in multiple language formats as is its interactive communications and information system. The latter, however, only identifies Spanish as a choice.
As we as a nation consider what we want our healthcare system to look like going forward, meeting the language access needs of LEP patients must figure in the to-do list. And that is best achieved by incorporating their interests early in the process rather than hoping they will be incorporated down the road.