The 9 Biggest Medical Translation Services Blunders You Need to Know!

Professional medical translation services are required by hospitals and health care providers on a daily basis, especially in countries that have diverse populations, as they admit patients for whom English is not their first language. In order to fulfill patients’ satisfaction, health facilities shouldn’t depend on bilingual medical staff to avoid any misdiagnosis. Instead, they should hire professional and trained interpreters and translators so as to eliminate the language barriers that patients face and guarantee clear and comprehensive communication with patients.

Unfortunately, medical translation and interpreting services are more difficult than any other translation field as they do not only encompass the translation of content from one language to another at a high-level proficiency, but they also involve precision, up-to-date extensive knowledge, and accurate access to medical terminology. However, translation errors do happen, sometimes with minor consequences, but that’s not the case with medical translation! Errors in medical translations are catastrophic mistakes that might endanger the lives of many people. Have you ever wondered how hazardous it could be without hiring a medical translator and interpreter? Here are nine examples of the most famous medical translation mistakes that demonstrate hurdles that occurred based on poor medical translations.

1- The Taiwanese Lin Case That Lost Her Life!

You might have stumbled across the lin case on google, the story of the Taiwanese child patient interpreter who said goodbye forever to her parents and died. The patient, a Californian citizen with Taiwanese roots, who was only 17 years old developed a brain abscess (cerebral abscess) due to being hit in the head with a tennis racquet. Due to the lack of proper medical translation services at the hospital, the young girl acted as an interpreter for her parents in the emergency room until she couldn’t survive a respiratory arrest.

The teenager did not only give a misleading interpretation about her case for her parents, but she also interpreted complex medical terminology that is only understood by medical practitioners and physicians putting her life at risk. Unluckily, the girl lost her life as she did not receive timely medical treatment for the abscess. If there was an effective way of communication through a proper medical translation service, the girl might have been alive by now living the life that she deserves!

2- The Tragic Tran Case

Another heart-breaking incident occurred because of a child patient interpreter from Vietnam that lost her life due to inadequate understanding of her medical needs. Although proper communication is vital between patients and healthcare professionals, the nine-year-old Vietnamese girl was asked to interpret for herself until she collapsed as a result of a relapse to one of her prescriptions. After that, her 16-year-old sibling took the helm and attempted to translate for his Vietnamese-speaking parents.

Sadly, by the time the doctors and nurses realized what was going wrong with the young girl, it was too late! The girl died because of not receiving the care she should get. This happened as the parents relied on a child to interpret and translate in anguish and distress her symptoms failing to adequately understand and address her medical needs. It is believed that patients who can communicate successfully with healthcare providers receive more successful treatments; however, in Tran’s case, neglecting to accommodate a professional medical interpreter was a principal determinant in causing the young girl’s death.

Moreover, when the girl was initially discharged from the hospital after being dosed with a drug that may kill her, none of the medical staff told the parents about the discharge instructions as they were not translated into Vietnamese. Subsequently, the girl’s family sued the hospital for medical malpractice and negligence and was awarded $200,000.

Medical Translation Services
Medical Translation Services

3- Mr. Francisco Torres’s Missing Kidney

 In 2010, a Spanish-speaking man called Mr. Francisco Torres had an operation (Nephrectomy surgery) in California’s Riverside Parkview Community Hospital Medical Center to eradicate his diseased kidney. At the direction of hospital staff, Mr. Torres had to sign a consent form for removing his diseased kidney stating which kidney was to be removed. Ironically, the clinical consent form given to Mr. Torres was written in English without providing a copy in Spanish or access to a qualified bilingual Spanish English interpreter. As a result, the hospital staff removed the wrong kidney. And even after the hospital staff acknowledged the error, the diseased kidney was also removed leaving Mr. Torres with no kidneys at all. With the lack of translation professionals, the hospital failed to follow safety protocol and failed to communicate correctly with the Spanish-speaking patient, Mr. Torres.

4- Willie Ramirez and The World’s Most Expensive Medical Error

In 1980, an 18-year-old person named Willie Ramirez was admitted to a healthcare facility in South Florida after he suddenly developed an acute headache causing him to collapse and be in a coma. His Spanish-speaking family and friends reported to a physician in the hospital what had happened, mentioning that Ramirez was “intoxicado” which means that Ramirez was poisoned since Cubans consider the word “intoxicado” as if he ate something and he had hives or an allergic reaction to the food. As the translation was made by one of the bilingual medical staff, not a professional medical translator, he erroneously interpreted the word as meaning intoxicated, carrying the connotations of drugs and alcohol.

Ramirez’s family believed he was food-poisoned and the hospital care team treated him as if he had overdosed. Unluckily, none of those was true! Ramirez was actually suffering from an intracerebral hemorrhage and doctors only discovered that after days of improper treatment leaving him to be a quadriplegic (paralyzed). The hospital was sued for neither providing a precise treatment nor premium medical translation services for precise communication and Ramirez received a malpractice settlement of 71 million dollars. Ramirez’s ailment was treatable, and this life-changing incident could have been bypassed if it weren’t for this requisite medical translation error.

Medical Translation Services
Medical Translation Services

5- Teresa Tarry’s Unnecessary Double Mastectomy

A British woman named Teresa Tarry received a double mastectomy in a health center in Spain that was unnecessary. The double operation occurred because of a translation error in her medical records. Teresa’s health records showed, as claimed by Mrs. Tarry, that her mother as well as her sister, also had breast cancer. In reality, she had no family history of cancer and the lump she initially sought help for wasn’t even cancerous, so it was unnecessary to remove her breasts. According to the Daily Mail network, Teresa not only lose her two breasts, but she also lost her job and described her life as living in hell. She’s currently suing the hospital for €600,000 in compensation.

6- 11 Tablets Each Day For Heart Failure

In an earlier study that appeared in the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal, a case about a Spanish patient was published. He was prescribed medication once a day by a clinician. The pharmacy partially translated the instructions, but the English term” once” was left as is. Lamentably, the term “once” is read in two syllables as ”on-ce” which is equivalent to number 11 in Spanish. Accordingly, the Spanish patient took 11 tablets a day instead of taking just one tablet a day, and you could imagine the rest!

7- Radiology in France Causing Death

One more tragic story happened in France several years ago, seven cancer patients died from excessive radiation exposure. As it turned out, the booklets that contained the manufacturing company’s instructions in French were translated all wrong. All the doses of radiation were miscalculated and 7 patients were unintentionally over-exposed. Diagnostic radiologists noticed the mistake when it was too late and seven poor souls lost their fight against cancer because of poor medical translation services

Medical Translation Services
Medical Translation Services

8- Botched Knee Replacement Surgeries in Germany

In Germany in 2006-2007, a minor translation error ended in 47 failed knee replacement surgeries. These failed surgeries were caused by errors in the translation of device package information. To explain more, knee prostheses are available in 2 types: with or without cement. The source language of the prosthesis package information used for the operations included the information that the femoral component was “non-modular cemented,” which was incorrectly translated as “non-cemented” or “without cement”. The Mistranslation error resulted in having 47 patients undergo knee replacement surgery twice for no reason.

9- The Macedonian’s fake cancerous vestibular nerve tumor

In 2015, Sandra George, a Macedonian speaker with limited English skills, sought help for a vestibular nerve tumor. In her first consultation, she brought her friend as a bilingual interpreter instead of a qualified interpreter. As her friend was not a qualified interpreter, she believed that she had a cancerous tumor, but it wasn’t. Although Sandra’s succeeding consultations included certified Macedonian interpreters who explained that the tumor wasn’t malignant, she continued to believe it was! During the surgery, Sandra faced a double loss. Not only the tumor was benign, but also one of the surgeons who operated accidentally severed Ms. George’s facial nerve leaving her to suffer palsy on one side of her face.

To sum up, translation blunders happen every day in all translation fields including political, legal, and economic translations, but in the case of medical translation, errors in medical translation could really have dire consequences. Studies suggest that patients who can communicate successfully with healthcare providers receive more successful treatments.

Legally, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains several requirements for healthcare providers and professionals including providing access to medical care to people with limited proficiency in the English language. This requires healthcare facilities to provide professional language services assistance for all patients with no discrimination. Thus, it is vital for health facilities and hospitals to guarantee proper and effective communication between a patient or a radiologist to prevent any misdiagnosis and ensure the efficacy of treatment.

In consequence, Hospitals and healthcare centers should guarantee the following:

– Hire qualified and experienced translators and interpreters who received training and certifications in the medical translation field.

– Avoid opting for google translate or using machine translations and online systems translations unless they are artificial intelligence (AI) translators that use advanced artificial intelligence.

– Avoid using bilingual staff in place of professional translation services because that very often result in tragic miscommunications and misdiagnosis.

– Avoid having family, relatives, and friends act as languages interpreters because speaking two languages fluently doesn’t mean that they are aware of medical terminology which is only understood by medical specialists.

At The Translation Gate, we understand that translation errors quite commonly cause a lot of pain and cost a lot of money to fix, and might put someone’s life at risk. Hence, we take pride in offering error-free medical translation services with our world-class team of professional medical translators and interpreters in over 160 languages in a large-scale variety of life sciences materials. Trust your translation to The Translation Gate and enjoy the best medical translation quotes and the highest level of customer satisfaction. Request your free quote now!

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