Archive for November 30, 2012

Enriching Patient Communication: Tips to effective translation

The core of the doctor-patient relationship is good verbal and written communication. It goes without saying what the consequences would be if there’s a misunderstanding. But when both doctor and patient don’t speak the same language communicating can be more than a challenge. Sometimes it can be a downright nightmare. Having interpreter services available is critical. Also having supplemental translated education or instruction information on hand, (in the languages of your community) is key. It aids in greater comprehension of doctor-patient communication, and encourages better follow through of the prescribed advice or regimen.

When it comes to translation it’s crucial that any text or graphics translations be of the highest quality — in wording, connotation and cultural understanding. For example, In the Hmong language, there is no word for cancer or even a concept of it. Inexperienced interpreters have described chemotherapy as “we’re going to put a fire in you” — an obvious deterrent to treatment.

So, to keep from eliciting blank looks from bad or inadequate translations, doctors and other healthcare providers need to pay special attention to the quality of the translation service they use. Yet how can a healthcare provider be certain it has gotten the most accurate translations for its target populations?

Factors to consider when selecting a translator or agency include: experience in the source and target languages, special skills relevant to your field, and an established methodology of best practices for getting projects done well, consistently and on time.

The best and most reliable way to find a good translator is to use the reference of a trusted colleague; someone who has experience with your practice area, and who also has worked with the translator in the past. Since this is not always possible, there are other ways to evaluate prospective agencies or individuals. The approach should be similar to the selection of a valued employee, since the translators can have a big influence on how you are perceived in the target languages. In the U.S., the American Translator’s Association ( can provide valuable information and references for companies and individuals in your area.

Bottom line, providing quality translations of vital health information for your limited English proficiency patients means you’ll be helping all people better educate themselves which leads to better health for all.



The Importance of Cultural Competence in Healthcare

We just recently presented a webinar on this topic. After the webinar, I received a call from a colleague who shared a story –An older Navajo man was terminally ill, and the family wanted to take him home to die. Unfortunately, the discharge process took too long, and as the man was dying, his nephew broke the hospital window to “allow his uncle’s spirit to escape,” the staff later learned.

Cultural awareness is so valuable because the provider-patient relationship is built on trust. Sometimes a lack of cultural sensitivity or competencies can lead to incorrect assumptions that can have a negative impact on patient care.

Therefore, it is key for health care provider success to understand the unique needs of cultural differences among their patients. In order to provide comprehensive and effective medical care, one must realize how people make decisions and choices about their health care needs based on their cultural background and beliefs.

The Joint Commission has a good “road map” for starting out –

The U.S. minority population (currently at 30%) is expected to exceed 50% before 2050. No other advanced, populous country will see such diversity. The United States is a racially and ethnically diverse country that yes, brings challenges, but also presents many opportunities. I’m thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving!

First Thing’s First

Create a Terminology and Style Guide 

Do you happen to have a large technical document, instruction guide, PowerPoint presentation, marketing piece, e-learning module or website that requires translation? Before you rush out and translate everything, consider a key preliminary step that could further enhance understanding, receptivity and cultural appeal while maintaining brand identity and adding a personal twist.

Since no two writing styles are alike and it is often critical to maintain the company’s visual appearance and “writing style,” terminology and style guides are created before translation and act as a writing guide for linguists and a visual guide for designers. These guides can then be expanded and used for all projects to enhance term consistency and brand identity. For instance, a “scalpel” isn’t a “knife,” nor is the word “stress” always perceived as negative. Certain catch phrases, marketing slogans, graphics and visual design may also need to be tweaked to better fit the target audience.

While it is important to use linguistic experts that have both a command of the target language and subject matter knowledge, terminology and style guides play an important role as well. Companies are able to define the tone of the writing style, ensure the visual appropriateness of graphics and pinpoint key technical terms or terms that have certain connotations and contextual meaning before starting the translation. This allows organizations to avoid costly review and editing cycles later in the translation process if the changes are subjective or preferential.

That being said, it is never a bad idea to establish a style guide and glossary of terminology with your translation professionals well before you dive head first into a translation project for a substantial, technical or otherwise creatively written and designed masterpiece. Chances are what seemed catchy and understood in English won’t be as “translation-friendly” in the target language. Creating a glossary of terms and style guides will help you evaluate and navigate these challenges more thoroughly.

More to come,


“I say tomato, you say tomahto”

Why writing with your audience in mind and using professional linguists matters

Humans, more technically known as “Homosapiens,” possess the ability to create, understand and adapt and apply language not only to get the point across, but to express individuality. It is no wonder that we often forget that what we perceive as “familiar” may not apply or make sense to others, let alone in different languages.

To deviate just a little (and I assure you this example will apply), back in my college days, I once promised a friend I would attend a mechanical engineering mixer. I thought what the heck, it could be interesting and I might learn something new outside my area of expertise. Boy, was I in deep! Before I knew it, I was drowning in unfamiliar terminology and unable to grasp concepts that I did actually have knowledge of, but couldn’t comprehend at the level on which they were being discussed. The other experts in the room were used to this form of communication and had a good command of the terminology. I did not. My point is, if the linguist doesn’t have a solid command of the language AND an educational background in the subject matter they are writing about, chances are, you may not get the result you are looking for or even worse, damage your image or reputation. Furthermore, if you aren’t preparing content with your target audience in mind, you’re bound to veer in the wrong direction and that is when misunderstanding and miscommunication meltdowns occur.

Healthcare content is no exception. I’m sure doctors have to rework many technical concepts to explain them in layman’s terms for patients, as they would also use experts to translate the more technical versions for other doctors to learn about their practices and/or research. Like my example above illustrates, I am clearly not a mechanical engineering genius. Can you imagine someone like me taking a stab at writing an engineering textbook? The same applies in any language.

VIA understands this concept very well as no two projects and writing styles are alike. Legal materials are not equivalent to marketing and you can’t use a marketing linguistic expert to translate a legal contract. As our motto states, “say what you mean.”




November is National Native American Heritage Month

The Department of Health & Human Services announced the theme of this year’s National Native American Heritage Month yesterday – “Native Families Moving Ahead: Together We Strengthen Our Nations.” The focus is on continuing to build healthy families and communities.

At VIA we’re committed to furthering health literacy to help bridge healthcare disparities across all cultures and communities. Reading yesterday’s announcement, I was thrilled to see that IHS reported the Special Diabetes Program has done a tremendous job of fighting this disease by increasing awareness, preventive services and access to treatment in Tribal communities. Diabetes is one of the conditions where awareness and subsequent education and treatment can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life for the millions affected. Historically, Native Americans and Alaska Natives have been more likely to die from diabetes than other racial and ethnic groups. Getting the word out about community access for programs like this is an extremely important step in reaching the goal of healthy communities.

Read more here on Kathleen Sebelius’ statement regarding this year’s theme: