Archive for May 26, 2010

How a Greyhound bus can remind us of the importance of medical translation

We often discuss what is at stake when language barriers prevent limited English proficient patients from enjoying equal access to healthcare. The recent stories about the failure of pharmacists in New York and elsewhere to ensure labeling is adapted to LEP patients points up the very real risks.

Sometimes, events outside of healthcare can just as effectively underscore how critical effective, experienced, accessible language translation can be. Consider the recent situation on a Greyhound bus traveling from Maine to New York.

You may have seen the story in the papers. Last week, when passing through New Hampshire, passengers found their world turned upside down by a bomb scare. A standoff followed in which one of the passengers, a man from the Africa nation of Burundi, failed to exit the bus after police officers had it surrounded.

Nine tense and potentially very dangerous hours followed, but was resolved very quickly when an interpreter finally arrived on the scene. According to reports, the man became very cooperative once he heard his language being used and the police immediately realized he was neither a threat nor a terrorist.

In medical translation, it can be easy to get focused on the individual materials or campaigns on which we are working. But incidents like this remind us yet again that the failure to provide language access can have more profound consequences than a simple breakdown in communication.

Good health!

Could this small incidental influence your medical translation costs?

One of the many benefits you derive by working with a seasoned language services provider (LSP) is access to their wealth of knowledge about translation, technology, and, if you choose well, your industry. The good ones apply that experience to help you achieve your communication goals, while keeping costs down.

Experience has taught us that cost-cutting opportunities can appear in the most unexpected places. Consider this: You likely don’t give much thought to the font you use in your print communications. But if they’re on their game, your LSP does. Why? Because that seemingly simple decision can impact the bottom line.

The reality is different fonts require different amounts of ink. For the typical drug or medical device manufacturer, for example, simply choosing Century Gothic over Arial could save the company thousands of dollars in ink and paper costs. recently conducted a test, pitting fonts against each other to find the “greenest” and most economical options. Arial, a very popular style, was used as a benchmark. The winner? Century Gothic took the top spot, using 30 percent less ink than Arial. Ecofont and Times Roman rounded out the top three. Check out the link for the rankings and associated costs.

I understand that fonts are not directly related to medical translation. But they’re not unrelated either. The point is that your communications campaigns are composed of a multitude of choices, some as small as the font you use. It’s how you navigate those choices that makes all the difference.

Good health!

New medical glossary introduced in nine European languages

Thanks to the Foreign Exchange Translations blog for this recent posting. The helpful resource reports that a new multilingual medical glossary is now available. In truth, it’s actually eight glossaries, each devoted to a different language, including the following:

  • English
  • Danish
  • Dutch
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish

Conceived by the European Commission and created by the Heymans Institute of Pharmacology and Mercator School, Department of Applied Linguistics, the glossaries are comprised of more than 1,800 technical and medical terms, including:

  1. Technical and popular medical terms
    These are organized in lists and include an index of all medical terms and cross-references between terms.
  2. Glossaries of technical and popular medical terms
    Included in these glossaries are notes and comments from translators and users for each of the 1800+ terms in the selected language.
  3. Multilingual lemma collection
    In this section, each concept is given its own page on which all the technical and popular terms from all languages are compiled together.
  4. Dictionary
    This resource lists a brief English definition for each term.

Resources of this kind are valuable additions to any medical environment, covering as they do a wide variety of subjects. But bear in mind, as useful as they are, they remain adjuncts to your working relationship with an experienced language services provider.

Good health!

Study suggests pharmacists too often avoid offering LEP options

After last week’s post discussing the alarmingly high rate of errors in machine translated medicine labels in New York comes another story that suggests the problem might in fact be much larger. According to a recent article in The Oncology Pharmacist, the issue goes well beyond both New York and machine translation.

The report highlights the results of questionnaires completed by nearly 300 chain and independent pharmacists across the country. What did it reveal? Among the lessons gleaned from the study is the understanding that of those pharmacists who do not offer translated information more than half have adopted the position for fear of translation inaccuracies. About 25 percent concede they have shied away due to worries about the legal ramifications of such errors.

Perhaps most frustrating of all are those pharmacies that have limited English proficient (LEP) capabilities and/or resources, but elect not to share that option with their patients for the fears stated above or other reasons, including cost or a perceived lack of qualified medical translators.

Now, mistranslations of labels are admittedly a potentially serious hazard, as underscored in last week’s post, but failure to provide any medical translation options is akin somehow to rolling the dice when it comes to a patient’s health. Neither scenario promotes the necessary level of safety and access required for true and effective health care.

The study concludes that the solution for pharmacists is perhaps little different than that required of other medical professionals: training. This starts by achieving a sound understanding of the cultural and language needs of their patients. And it is supported by learning how and where to secure the services of medical translation experts.

Good health!