5 Reasons Why Medical Documents Are Harder To Translate


Translating medical documents is a highly valued skill in the translation industry. However, the skill set isn’t easy to find. And because of that scarcity, medical translation services are considered niche and are often costlier than other forms of translation.

And while there are many misconceptions when it comes to translation, medical translation is a different beast entirely. Like legal translation, there is no room for error when translating medical texts.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on the different types of medical documents, why they’re harder to translate, and why translation agencies offer a solution.

Types of medical documents that require translation

Medicine is a massive and far-reaching subject with many sub-branches and topics.

For the purpose of this article and series, we’re including pharmaceutical translation as a sub-category of medical translation. Moreover, medical translators are capable of translating pharmaceutical texts and vice versa.

When you think of medical documents, what comes to mind?

Here are a few examples of medical documents that may require translation:

  • Medical reports
  • Clinical trials and research
  • Insurance claims
  • Prescription labels (pharmaceutical translation)
  • Medical device documentation and technical guides
  • Medical software and mobile apps
  • Legal and medical contracts (between hospitals and patients, or hospitals and suppliers…etc)
  • Legal patents
  • Patient contracts (for trials or with hospitals…etc)
  • Medical research documents such as theses and research

Why medical documents are harder to translate

As you can see, there are many areas and types of medical translation. But that’s not the main reason it’s harder to translate medical documents than other topics or subjects.

Here are 6 areas that cause complexity when translating medical documents.

1) Unfamiliar and Latin terminology

The medical field – including pharmaceuticals – is rich in Latin and Greek terminology. It’s because of this that some medical terminology, such as the names of some diseases, is transliterated rather than translated.

2) Complex sentence structures

In addition to Latinate and complex medical terminology, sentence structures in some medical documents like patents, contracts, and reports, can be quite complex.

This requires an experienced translator who is able to dissect the document and produce a clear rendering in a different language.

3) Special background required

We’ve mentioned that medical translators aren’t readily available in all languages. The reason behind that is that medical translators should have a medical, pharmaceutical or nursing background should be well-versed in the source and target languages, and need to have translation experience.

In some cases, the medical translator may not come from a medical background but is a translator who has become well-versed in the field. However, niche translators aren’t that common either. Unfortunately.

4) May require transcription before translation

Another problem that often occurs when translating medical documents and reports is getting a report handwritten.

While this may come as a surprise, it’s quite common in third-world countries and areas where medical assistance is limited.

In this case, the translator needs to transcribe the text first before researching the difficult and unfamiliar terms and translating the text.

Other texts, including reports and clinical trials, may be in an audio format such as a recording. Transcription also comes into play in this case, resulting in more time before the final translation takes shape.

5) Documents may require a team

Some medical documents such as clinical trials and research reports may be quite long. Think hundreds of pages.

This calls for a team of medical translators and reviewers, not just a single person. This adds to the complexity of the overall process and the need to find several qualified medical translators in two languages. (We’re not even diving into rare languages.)

6) It’s a rare skill set

Finding a translator or interpreter with a medical, pharmaceutical, or nursing background is rare. Why? Because how many doctors or nurses do you know have left the medical field and turned to translation?

Not that many!

Add in the requirements of having a strong understanding of two languages, great research skills, and writing in those two languages, and this already-narrow field becomes even narrower.

The same applies to medical interpretation.

Why work with a medical translation agency

So how can you get your medical documents translated if there are so many obstacles?

The answer is to work with a translation agency. Some agencies may specialize in the medical field, while others like TranslationPartner collaborate with medical translators to ensure quality translations.

Let’s look at more benefits of working with translation agencies:

1) Have a team of specialized translators

The primary benefit you get when working with a medical translation agency is their team of vetted medical translators.

In addition, they have experienced reviewers in multiple languages who will review the translated medical document for consistency and clarity.

Moreover, translation agencies can take on translations in several languages. So, if you have a medical research paper or a technical guide on how to use a certain device that you’d like to translate into two or three languages, an agency would be your best choice.

2) Have an experience with medical texts

Medical translation isn’t a common field. Many generalist translators may encounter a medical text once every few years in their line of work.

Agencies, on the other hand, are more likely to have encountered and worked on medical texts and documents.

3) Faster delivery

Working with an agency means you get a team of translators and reviewers. This means you may get a quicker delivery timeline compared to working with a single translator or even a group of freelancers.

In addition, translation agencies ensure that even if several translators are working on the same document, the final result is coherent and clear.

You won’t find the same term translated in different ways because there were different translators.

4) Can factor in other services

We mentioned that some medical documents may require additional services prior to getting to the translation phase. However, some documents may require services after the translation is complete.

Pre-translation requirements include transcription, whereas post-translation needs may include dubbing or voice-over. The latter is often the case if the text is to be rendered into a video format.

This is also the case when translating educational courses or videos. More services are required and translation agencies are better equipped to handle the extra needs on your behalf.

5) Certified translations

One of the benefits of working with an agency is getting certified medical translation services, which you’re unlikely to get with a solo translator. Getting certified as a translator isn’t easy and differs from one country to another.

However, because agencies are companies, they are better positioned to get certified than an individual.


Medical translation comes with many hurdles, which often results in a higher cost for medical translation services. However, every problem has a solution. So if you’re looking for professional medical translation services for your organization or company, then get in touch with TranslationPartner’s team.

Request a Free Quote from Translation partner

You can ask for a free translation cost estimate from our team, there is no commitment on your side