Archive for April 28, 2010

NYC medical translation effort complicated by machine translation

With medical translations, you simply cannot afford to not get it right. Be it a form, a website, or, as was the case in New York City, medicine bottles, a mistranslation can have serious consequences, in some cases even putting a patient’s life in jeopardy.

In 2009, pharmacy chains in New York City committed to offering translated medicine labels to their customers. The effort included seven languages, and was intended to help guard against potentially hazardous breakdowns in communication among the diverse multicultural population in the city, 44 percent of which is Spanish speaking.

While a laudable agreement, and one with which the participating pharmacies have continued to comply, many have elected to rely on machine translation programs to generate their translated labels. And unfortunately, such tools are simply not 100 percent reliable, as the number of errors in the program has illustrated.

In a study published in May by Pediatrics, approximately 50 percent of labels translated from English to Spanish contained mistakes. While not all the errors posed a danger, the study points out that some could in fact put patient safety at risk, which is surely unacceptable.

Few would disagree that when it comes to health any avoidable risk is too much. So, before this effort undertaken by New York City pharmacies can hope to truly advance the safety of its patients, a different translation solution must be secured. Otherwise, it’s likely to be about as effective as a sugar pill at fixing the problem.

Good health!

Medical translators should keep eye on regulations in China

Last week we looked at the rising prominence of Asia as a participant in the global medical industry. Given the region’s growing healthcare expenditures and aging populations, it comes as no surprise that healthcare organizations are paying close attention to new regulations.

For example, if China figures among your limited English proficient (LEP) audiences, and you’re a medical device manufacturer, bear in mind that certain claims are not to be included in advertisements, including:

  • Guarantees of effectiveness
  • Efficacy or recovery rates
  • Safety of effectiveness comparisons with other products or devices
  • Nonscientific descriptions of the device’s performance characteristics

If you’re a medical translator, the prevailing advertising rules are an equally critical piece. Next time you’re reviewing materials destined for China, consider that the following words and phrases are impermissible in that country:

  • No side effects
  • Refund if ineffective
  • Only
  • Exact
  • Fills a product gap in China

At the same time, certain Chinese disclaimers are required, such as “Contraindications and cautions are specified in the product manual,” a line that must be included in ads when applicable.

The takeaway here is a solid medical translation truism: Translation is not always enough. In China, as elsewhere, advertisements are not ready once they’ve been translated. They must also be localized and adapted. And they must comply with the target country’s regulations.

Good health!

Growing Asian healthcare needs represent enormous opportunity

The traditional business sector has for generations understood the powerful attraction of what has come to be called simply “the China market.” With the largest population on the planet, it has been and remains an undeniably enticing prospect.

Now, as that nation of billions moves furiously down the road of development, and as numerous other Asian nations follow suit, healthcare organizations are increasingly taking notice of what could be a monumental list of new healthcare needs.

According to Asian Hospital & Healthcare Management, Asia has 60 percent of the world’s population, but only accounts for 15 percent of global healthcare expenditures. Meanwhile, those expenditures are growing at an annual rate of more than 6 percent across Asia, driven in part by increases in chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.

Aging is another daunting healthcare challenge, especially in countries like Japan and China. For example, Asian Hospital & Healthcare Management reports that Japan is expected to see its population of 65 and older reach 22 percent of the population by 2012, up from 20.6 percent as recently as 2007.

The opportunities to meet the needs of this burgeoning audience are exciting, but the challenges of language and culture mean that only the best prepared are likely to succeed. Next week, we’ll explore what that means for the largest of these audiences—China.

Good health!

An industry’s failing online could be your next opportunity

Interest in and the need to meet the needs of a growing Hispanic population remains a priority for healthcare organizations. With Census 2010 now under way, this focus only promises to grow. In the last census in 2000, Hispanic multicultural marketing experienced a big bump when the sheer size and rapid growth of this demographic was captured. And there is no reason to believe this time will be any different.

The question is do we understand Hispanic audiences any better now than we did a decade ago? Do we do a better job of meeting their communication needs? A recent post on the Engage:Hispanic blog suggests we still have some ways to go.

Most significantly, the quality of online content for Hispanics remains an issue. Too many organizations elect to use regional Spanish when engaging national Hispanic audiences, which aside from being ineffective also demonstrates a lack of cultural understanding. According to Engage:Hispanic, some Spanish speakers actually make a sport of cataloging the mistakes and cultural missteps made on would-be Spanish-language websites.

Specially singled out are pharmaceutical and medical device companies who are identified as being most in need of retooling their online communications. Given such a situation, we can hardly be surprised to learn that Hispanics are ever more reluctant to even visit a Spanish-language site.

But there is an upside. With so many sites failing to meet the needs of Hispanic patients, there exists a great opportunity to right that wrong. All you have to do is deliver consistently high-quality, culturally relevant Spanish-language content.

Good health!