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Importance of accurate translation in healthcare settings

It’s hard to come across anyone who finds visiting their doctor as an eagerly anticipated, joyful experience. Doctor visits alone are often perceived as unpleasant, uncomfortable and sometimes downright scary. Imagine then that not only are you in a less-than-enjoyable situation of which your health duly relies on, but you also can’t communicate with the person in charge of keeping you healthy or even saving your life.

Accurate translation in the healthcare field is of the utmost importance for this very reason. Not being able to properly convey symptoms experienced, medical history and treatment feedback is a terrifying prospect for anyone, let alone someone who is suffering from a serious illness or life-threatening injury.


Many people find medical information confusing even when it’s already IN their own language. Since the healthcare and medical fields have such specialized lingo in what seems like their own dialect, translating these materials requires experienced translators with deep knowledge of healthcare terminology.

Materials such as medical records, prescription pamphlets, doctor manuals, and equipment instructions all play crucial roles in keeping both patients and doctors safe and informed.  The Department of Health and Human Services deems the below documents as vital and requires that they be translated in the languages common in the community where the office is located:

  1. Notices of free language assistance
  2. Notices of eligibility criteria for services
  3. Informed consent documents
  4. Intake forms that have clinical consequences
  5. Discharge instructions
  6. Complaint forms


According to the Daily Mail, an error in the translation of Teresa Tarry’s medical history files left her “completely broken” after she underwent an unnecessary double mastectomy in 2007. After a lump on her chest grew to the size of a golf ball, Teresa, who had recently moved to Spain from England following a divorce, visited her local doctor.

There, Teresa admitted that she could only “half-understand” the Spanish-speaking doctors, and then the enormous error stemmed from a mistranslation of her medical files. She states, “Doctors must have confused medical records showing my mother and sister having ovary operations with a family history of cancer…….I have no family history of cancer and so the preventative treatment was completely unfounded.”

Only after the surgery was complete did Teresa learn that the lump was indeed benign and that doctors had suggested the surgery because of their incorrect interpretation of Teresa’s medical files.

‘At no point did I think the lump was benign,’ she said. ‘If I had I would have explored other procedures to remove the lump. I was convinced I was having the operation because I had cancer. At no point, did the surgeon indicate to me that I didn’t have cancer.’

Teresa has since pursued a €600,000 lawsuit against the hospital and is left with shattered self-confidence and a good deal of physical and emotional scarring.

This is a perfect example of how something so seemingly simple can make such an enormous impact on countless lives. Communication is the key to any success, and when that falters and isn’t made top priority, we all suffer. If you’re exploring medical documentation translation, be sure that you’re working with an LSP that is certified, experienced and leverages healthcare-focused translators. It’s easy for messages to slip through the cracks – US Translation Company can fill those for you.

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