The Fatal Side Effects of Medical Mistranslation
By: Salman Saeed
Language plays a vital role in facilitating communication beyond borders and nationalities. The medical industry is one of the many industries that use translation as a tool to reach out to global patients. However, just like in the law industry, omission of a minor detail, or even a small mistranslation can have devastating consequences for the whole medical community and the patients.
If we take a tour of past translation errors, it will become evident that medical mistranslation has been the most fatal of them all. Although the chances of these errors occurring can be reduced significantly if expert medical translators are hired, a minor error can wreak havoc, often resulting in irreversible health damage.
So what really are the fatal side effects of medical mistranslation? Why is so important to be absolutely accurate when handling medical files? More importantly, what are the reasons for these errors in medical translation? let us take a look.
Why does Mistranslation Occur in Medical Documents?
Before we explore the fatal consequences of medical mistranslation, let us explore why these mistranslations occur in the first place:
1. Errors in dealing with abbreviations
This is one of the most common problems in medical translation because some terms have various abbreviations. In many cases, multiple terms use the same abbreviations. Due to these confusing abbreviations, doctors may commit medical errors.
2. Evolution of language, synonyms, and neologisms:
Neologisms or newly coined expressions can become quite confusing for translators. The mixing of these new terms with obsolete terms can contribute to raising inaccuracies.
3. Inadequate medical training of translators:
Often, the translators dealing with medical translation may be inadequately trained. When a translator is untrained and does not have subject matter expertise, it could cause errors in translation, such as “mild dementia” becoming “light dementia”.
Why Medical Mistranslation is Fatal?
Here are some of the devastating consequences that can occur as a result of medical mistranslation:
1. Aggravation of Patient’s Health Condition
This is probably the most common and the most fatal of the consequences of mistranslation. In many cases, wrongly labeled medicines can cause the patient’s health condition to deteriorate, instead of getting better. This is the reason why the patient’s illness, for which he is seeking medical help goes untreated, raising the risk of getting worse if left untreated for a long.
One of the implications of untreated medical conditions is personal impairment. If this impairment is detected late, it can even lead to the removal of the affected body part.
2. Emotional Trauma of Health Professionals
In cases where patients have succumbed to impairments due to mistranslation, healthcare professionals have experienced emotional trauma. Although these health professionals operate in the best interests of patients, mistranslations in some pharmaceutical instructions or labels may mislead them. When such incidents occur, medical professionals may experience guilt, shame, psychological pressure, or self-doubt. Such feelings may hinder the performance of these medical professionals, affecting their professional performance.
3. Lawsuits and Legal Proceedings
Medical and healthcare professionals have a duty towards their patients–to be fair and effective in their treatments. In cases the patients’ health worsens or does not improve, patients can sue these medics. Negligence toward patients arises when the treatment they seek does not get treated properly. Patients expect the medics to treat them in a qualified manner, so it is hard for them to understand it when they encounter a situation where a medic does not know how a pharmaceutical error occurred. Whenever such an error occurs, the close relatives of the patients can press charges against the hospital or specific healthcare professional. In return, the healthcare professional may have to pay a heavy fine, or he may lose their practicing license.
These lawsuits can have double punishments. Firstly, the medic will have to pay a fine, serve a jail term, or lose his practicing certificate. Secondly, the lawsuit can result in emotional damage to the medic, causing loss of motivation and work drive.
4. Unnecessary Medical Processes
Sometimes, errors in translations, especially in pharmaceutical treatments can result in adding unnecessary addition of processes. Firstly, it may take repeated pharmaceutical processes to correct the error. In such a case, the patient and the medical facility may have to bear additional time and costs.
Secondly, mistranslation can lead to unnecessary medical processes instead of the right ones. For example, mistranslation in surgery can lead to a lengthy surgery process to locate an affected body part. Contrary to that, the correct surgery process may be precise and to the point.
Medical practitioners and healthcare professionals are responsible for delivering accurate treatments to patients. However, translation errors may result in harmful or detrimental consequences for patient health, often causing irreversible damage. To avoid such situations, it is best to hire professional medical translators from a professional translation agency with ample knowledge of medical terms and who can deal with these translation discrepancies on time.