How to Translate Medical Documents

how to translate medical documents

Translating medical documents can be a challenging task, yet it acts as a vital communication bridge in the healthcare industry.

From medical reports to clinical trials and research papers, every translation holds a life in hands.

Due to its technical and sometimes sensitive nature, medical document translation can directly impact patient care. 

Medical language and terminology can be hard to understand in the source language. If translation isn’t done accurately, treatment outcomes and medical research are prone to risks.

Whether you’re a professional medical translator or practitioner, you need to know that the consequences of a translation error could be dire. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step guide on how to translate medical documents effectively.

What Do We Mean by Medical Documents?

Before we dive into the process of medical document translation, first, you need to understand the nature of these documents.

Medical documents can be important legal papers that hold all the necessary information for taking care of patients properly. They cover healthcare and social information, and there are mainly two types of them:

1. Clinical Documents

Clinical documents include a patient’s medical history and all the details that healthcare professionals need to know. Keeping good clinical records is the key to better treatment and patient cooperation.

2. Non-clinical Documents

Non-clinical documents are administrative papers required throughout the healthcare process. Being of a social or administrative nature, they keep track of a patient’s care process. 

These documents support management, coordination, and organization of resources efficiently. They’re vital for the smooth operation of various healthcare departments, like linking primary care with specialized care.

Examples of Medical Documents

Basically, medical documents refer to any written material relevant to healthcare services. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Consent Forms: These documents outline the risks and alternatives to a medical procedure or treatment. They aim for patients to be fully aware of the proposed course of action.
  • Medical Records: These documents are comprehensive information about a patient’s medical history. They include a patient’s diagnosis, treatments, medications, and laboratory results.
  • Clinical Trials: Clinical trial documents are protocols and study materials aimed at evaluating a medical or surgical intervention.
  • Prescription Labels: Prescription labels inform patients of how to properly use their medications. They involve dosage instructions, warnings, and precautions.
  • Health Insurance Claims: Such claims refer to formal requests made by a healthcare provider to an insurance company to pay for medical services offered to a patient. Translating insurance claims ensures that patients receive the coverage they’re entitled to.
  • Medical Certificates: A medical certificate is a written statement from a doctor or a medically qualified healthcare provider. It confirms that a medical practitioner is physically and mentally able to pursue higher education or a medical profession.

Considerations for Translating Medical Documents

As a form of medical translation, there’s no room for errors when translating medical documents. That’s why you should deal with every word meticulously to avoid delivering any misleading meaning of critical information.

So, before starting your medical document translation process, there are some considerations to keep in mind:

1. Work with a Medical Translator

Working with a medical translator is a reliable way to make sure your medical documents are translated accurately.

A medical translator can be someone who comes from a medical background or someone from a translation background who specializes in medical and scientific translation.

Working with a medical translator means you can feel confident the intended meaning of the source text is conveyed correctly.

Besides being proficient in a language pair, professional medical translators ensure the translated medical documents are culturally appropriate for the target audience. 

2. Consider Medical Terminology and Jargon

Translating medical terminology and jargon can be tricky and hard to grasp in a source language. 

Medical terms differ from one field to another. Terms falling under anatomy aren’t the same as those used in physiology or pharmacology, and other medical fields.

Professional medical translators should be able to understand these differences and deliver the intended meaning of a medical document without any loss of information.

Let’s not forget that medical terminology is evolving with new discoveries and advancements. It’s therefore important for professional medical translators to stay updated with the latest developments. This ensures they keep their translations precise and up to date.

3. Consider Acronyms

Medical texts are often filled with acronyms and abbreviations. This can be confusing and challenging to translate accurately. For example, “PD” can stand for “Paget’s disease,” “panic disorder,” “Parkinson’s disease,” “personality disorder,” or “Peyronie’s disease.” 

To provide a correct translation of such an acronym, you should have a clear understanding of the context.

Another aspect to consider when translating acronyms is the target audience. Translating medical documents for healthcare professionals may require using more technical acronyms, compared to translating documents for patients or everyday readers.

Moreover, some languages may not have acronyms, like Arabic, where the concept of acronyms isn’t part of the makeup of the language. 

4. Determine If You Need a Certified Translation

It’s crucial to determine whether you need a certified translation or not. In some countries, certain medical documents may need to be translated and certified for legal purposes. 

For example, official bodies usually ask for certified translations to meet the required standards.

You should ask for whom the translation is intended. Alternatively, your client may tell whether they want a certified medical translation or not.

How to Translate Medical Documents

Now, let’s look at how to translate medical documents. This section offers a step-by-step guide to providing a high-quality translation of the different types of medical documents. 

1. Read and Understand the Text

Before translating any medical document, you should thoroughly review the original text and understand it. Make sure you grasp the meaning of the medical text. Familiarize yourself with the content, context, and any complex medical terms and jargon.

This step includes conducting research and collecting any background information about the text, such as the intended target audience. 

2. Create Your Glossary

The next step is to create your medical glossary. You can start your translation process by pinpointing frequently used medical terms and researching unfamiliar ones.

This will help you build a solid foundation of medical terms that you can use throughout the translation process.

Having a well-curated glossary makes the translation process easier and faster. It also helps you maintain consistency and accuracy of the text.

3. Write Down Acronyms

Medical documents usually involve numerous acronyms. Writing down all these acronyms streamlines the translation process.

Like your glossary, create a comprehensive list of all the acronyms you encounter while reading the text for the first time. This will save you time and effort during the translation process.

Using this list, you can easily translate acronyms without having to stop and research each acronym, ensuring the target text is consistent and coherent.

Your list of acronyms will also serve as a handy reference you can get back to any time and use in later similar projects.

4. Divide the Text into Segments

Dividing the text into segments is a great technique for a seamless medical translation process. 

Breaking down paragraphs and sections lets translators focus on one part at a time. Working with smaller sections makes it easier to thoroughly translate and, later review, each segment for errors or inconsistencies.

5. Translate the Text

Now that you have fully understood the medical text, created a glossary, listed acronyms, and segmented the document, it’s time to start translating.

When translating medical documents, try to maintain the same tone and style as the original document in the target language. You also need to pay attention to any specific instructions or guidelines provided by the client or medical professionals.

 Use translation tools and resources to back your translation process. 

6. Review Your Work

Once your translation is complete, the next step is to review the text. 

By reviewing your work, you can address any cultural nuances you’ve missed during the translation process.

7. Ask Questions

It’s common to encounter medical terms or concepts that require further clarification during the translation process.

In such cases, you should reach out to medical experts or the client for guidance. Seeking clarification ensures accurate and high-quality translated medical texts.

8. Submit for Review

When you’re done with the translation and reviewing process, submit your work to a reviewer, if available, for a final review before submitting it to the client. 

In translation agencies, when translators are done with translation, reviewers take over the target document for review. 

This step ensures top-notch quality in medical translation.


Medical documents are like guides for anyone involved in the healthcare industry. Translating these documents plays a vital role in offering patients the best care possible.

Effective and accurate translation of medical texts ensures the best outcomes for patients, medical institutions, and healthcare providers. 

FAQs about Translating Medical Documents

The cost of medical translation services can vary based on various factors. These factors may be related to the complexity of the original document, the language pair, the urgency of translation, and the set deadlines.

What Factors Affect the Cost of Translating Medical Documents?

There are several factors that affect the cost of translation in general. These are:

  • the complexity of the document or topic
  • the length of the document
  • the choice of language pairs (some language pairs are more expensive than others)
  • the translation field (for example, medical, legal, and insurance translation are more expensive than other types of translation)

How Much Does It Cost to Translate a Medical Document?

The size of the original medical document primarily determines the translation cost. The complexity of the content and the language pair also influence pricing. 

Common language pairs typically have lower costs compared to rare languages or difficult language pairs.

On average, prices for medical translation services range between $0.10 and $0.20 per word.

Additionally, some translation agencies may offer per-page pricing, starting at around $40 per page.