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.