A workshop with a panel of experts gave attendees some valuable information about the specifics of medical translation. BY KAREN TKACZYK

The medical translation panel workshop was held in the ever-excellent location of the Mechanics Institute Library, and was well attended. There were three speakers, who had been selected with a view to providing diverse information that would both increase attendees’ understanding of the field and provide practical tips for our daily work. They achieved that.

Dr Karl Kaussen, owner of the Bay Area agency Biotext, spoke first. He gave us a thoughtful discussion of what can be lost in translation, describing aspects of cultural appropriateness, pragmatic conventions and syntactic and practical ambiguity. He concentrated on different registers that are seen in medical translation and explained how translators have to apply their expertise in areas as wide-ranging as clinical research reports and adaptation of texts for immigrant audiences of minimal literacy. This striking contrast of documents targeted at healthcare professionals versus documents targeted at the general public was discussed in detail, and way these differences should affect how the translator works was considered.

Following the theoretical discussion, Dr. Kaussen explained how his agency puts this theory into practice through the admirably well-constructed quality-assurance process that Biotext uses. If only all LSP’s were so thorough!

The second speaker was Dr. Norma Kaminsky, who has been a freelance medical translator for 15 years. Norma also contrasted healthcare texts with technical medical texts, then moved on to discuss examples focusing on technical medial texts. She talked about the four primary resources that we have as translators: our memory; our T.M.; our glossaries, dictionaries and textbooks; and the Internet.

Dr. Kaminsky gave tips that were designed to be of immediate use in our everyday work. One of those was configuring Google to search in a specific language, then searching for a term in your other language in order to find bilingual texts. In the context of differing register, several useful internet resources were demonstrated. They included Medline, PubMed and Medscape. It was easy to spot the terminology differences in texts geared to the general public and to a technical audience, and to see which sites would be of use in researching a variety of texts. A further set of useful resources was provided in a handout.

The third speaker was Mr. Kai Simonsen, VP of Production and Quality Systems at Crimson Life Sciences, another highly specialized agency where almost all the work relates to the field of medical devices. This is a field where companies are frequently audited by regulators and upstream customers. I enjoyed this quote: “Typically, control of translation is driven by fear of the FDA.”

Simonsen’s very informative presentation first gave us a succinct working definition for medical device “Any item used in medical treatment and diagnosis that is not a drug”, then gave an excellent overview of the key regulators governing medical device manufacturing. Simonsen then went into some detail on how medical devices are classified and how that determines the risk level for each device and the level of controls required by the regulatory agencies. He expanded upon the specific situation in the EU, as its requirements often drive translation requirements. The EU requires that all “Labeling” be translated. Labeling mitigates risk that cannot be limited by design, and is not limited to labels, but includes items such as instructions for use, packaging, user manuals, software user interfaces, and product inserts.

Simonsen next described Crimson’s process for ensuring high quality translation, which in this area corresponds to mitigating risk. Risk management, quality assurance, and post-market surveillance all need to be understood. Crimson goes by the theory that volume equals expertise. It provides references for its projects and expects translators to use them and it expects editors to focus on error detection and high-value edits. They have zero tolerance for impactful errors and report any found to the client, even if they are found years later.

As translators we may consider bad syntax to be a problem, but consider its impact in comparison with a missing 0 after a decimal point. Error impact is the determining factor in an error’s significance. Working in this field requires attention to certain very specific kinds of details.

After the very satisfying presentations there was a lively Q&A session. I left knowing that I had increased knowledge about the field, better understanding of the project management process, and a set of useful tools to add to my research resources. KT