When it comes to medical translation, a single word can make a difference

If you are medical translation professional or a limited English proficient (LEP) patient, you know firsthand how important—and how fraught with possible misunderstanding—translation of medications can be.

It can start at the very beginning with many failing to appreciate the difference between such fundamental words as “medication” and “drug.” Contrary to the words’ regular interchangeable use, they are not synonyms. Rather, the former designates those substances that have a pharmacological effect, while drugs, for our purposes here, are the products into which those medications are made.

As a consequence, some medical professionals use International Non-proprietary Names (INN) to refer to medications/drugs when creating their patient materials. Others rely on commercial brand names. Still others use common names that are understood in the U.S. but largely unfamiliar elsewhere. (e.g., acetaminophen is a widely used name in the U.S., though it is known as paracetamol elsewhere around the world).

It is easy to see how such a situation can compromise the accuracy and clarity that is necessary for safe and effective medical translation. More importantly, such a failure can have profound effects on the ability of LEP patients to make informed decisions about their health. And this is a risk we simply cannot afford to take.

Good health!

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