The need for medical translation services across the world is growing. With more and more people being able to travel, expat numbers and immigration numbers on the rise and working in a foreign country a very real option for many people, healthcare services are at the front line of our increasingly diverse communities.
For example, it was estimated that the NHS spend over £60,000 a day on medical translation, which includes the services of interpreters, translating documents into other languages and even simplifying the English used in certain paperwork for patients who are learning English. This amounts to in excess of £23m a year.
But this story is repeated around the world. Mass migration, whether from one country to another or from rural to urban areas, has seen a massive increase in the number of people seeking healthcare where they cannot fully speak the local language. For example, in North America, the 2011 census showed that around 9% of US citizens aren’t fluent in English (which is a lot of people). So healthcare systems around the world are needing to focus on the medical translation services that they offer, as well as hiring more multilingual staff.
Not only is medical translation a lifeline to non-native language speaking patients who feel they can seek medical help when and where they need it, but it can actually save money and improve efficiency for the healthcare service itself. For example, by offering medical translation services and improving communication, the NHS has seen a reduction in costly missed appointments (estimated to cost the NHS over £400 million a year) and shorter, more efficient stays by patients with interpreters. Not only that, medical translation can drastically improve patient care, increase accessibility to all forms of medical and dental treatment and ensure that all services are compliant with stringent industry regulations.
The focus on medical translation has also attracted the attention of technology firms and app developers, who are creating new digital tools to assist with medical communication across language barriers. For example, an American developer has created an app for translating basic medical information in Fukienese, which is a very specific dialect in Southern China as well as touch-screen software that allows patients to call a nurse for help. And in the future, technology may be able to even harness accurate real-time digital translation services for use in a medical environment.
But whilst the sophistication of these medical translation apps is constantly improving, and are a fantastic tool for basic communication, there are fears that without using the expertise of professional interpreters and experienced medical translation services, only being able to convey basic or incomplete information could be dangerous. Patients could be putting themselves at risk by not being able to provide precise symptoms or medical history or even misunderstanding how to take medication. And that is another reason why large health organizations around the world invest so much money in professional medical translation and interpreters.