The Role of Translators & Interpreters in the Medical Tourism Industry

Medical tourists are individuals that seek medical treatment abroad. When traveling to a country where local healthcare professionals don’t speak the same language, medical tourists have to make extra preparations which primarily includes finding the right medical translation and medical interpretation services.

With a steady rise of medical tourists around the world, medical translators and interpreters are playing a more important role in ensuring that patients all around the world are getting the proper health care they need wherever they go. If you’re looking to get a head start, here’s an article that can help you find and hire the perfect interpreter.

The Current State of Medical Tourism

Medical tourism is an overarching term that also comprises other forms of healthcare tourism such as dental tourism, fitness tourism, cosmetic surgery tourism, fertility tourism, and wellness tourism. For this article, our context of medical tourism is simply about medical tourists seeking whichever medical treatment they need abroad.

Medical tourists aren’t an entirely new phenomenon in the 21st century. What’s intriguing is the contemporary situation is the steady rise in the number of medical tourists. There are numerous factors contributing to this.

There are usually reasons such as seeking advanced/specialized medical treatment abroad that isn’t available in their home country. But factors indicative of our times include an aging population from developed countries, cheaper cosmetic and dentistry options abroad, rising quality healthcare in developing countries and etc.

But one of the most significant issues has to do with national healthcare options being too expensive. This is especially true for American patients as the price of U.S. healthcare from checkups, medicines, to operations is many times more than other developed countries that have lower costs with the same healthcare standards.

You can easily look up countless stories of American families declaring bankruptcy due to healthcare costs. Even with travel & lodging costs, and other expenses, U.S. healthcare is still exponentially more costly. All in all, American patients can save a lot more and endure less grief by being a medical tourist, making it a perfectly logical choice.

Other than American patients, even European citizens become medical tourists to save on healthcare costs and get the same quality treatment they are offered in their home country. It’s worth noting that cheap doesn’t always mean poorer quality.

Many popular medical tourism destinations, specifically in Middle Eastern, Latin American, and Asian countries have progressed rapidly to a point that a lot of their medical standards are on a par with developed countries. Many of their medical schools are internationally accredited and their doctors even train abroad, returning home afterward.

The economic relationship between national healthcare industries and medical tourists is an amiable one as medical tourists comprise a sizeable chunk of their revenue. Ultimately, it’s about providing people all around the world with affordable healthcare options with industry-standard care and professionalism.

Why Medical Translation Services is Extremely Sensitive Work

Compared to other translation specializations such as literary translation, technical translation, and so on, medical translation has standards that are absolutely vigorous and uncompromising—and for very good reasons. Not anyone can be a medical translator just because they’re bilingual/multilingual and have extensive translation experience.

1. Complex Medical Terminology

Medical translation involves complex medical terminology, medical abbreviations, medical acronyms, and other medical-related jargon that is simply beyond the league for normal translators no matter how advanced their language skills are. A medical translator typically has an M.D, to begin with, and has plenty of experience in the medical field under their belt.

Not only is medical translation a specialized form of translation, but there is an additional level of specialization in medical translation. In the field of medicine, physicians typically have specializations such as pediatrics, cardiology, neurology, and so on. As you can expect, medical translators are limited to translation work that is related to their specialization.

2. Stellar Language Skills as a Medical Professional

In tandem with extensive medical experience and specialization, medical translators should possess what translators have; advanced language skills under their chosen language pairs such as English to Spanish and also translate from Spanish to English. But this is where it gets tricky for medical translators.

Advanced language skills is an absolute must not only for translators in general but particularly for medical translators. Not only are medical terms exceedingly complex, but the medical translator should also be able to identify the perfect equivalent of medical terms in other languages.

English and Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese) use medical and anatomical terms that incorporate Latin into its lexicon. This makes translating English medical terms to unrelated language families such as Asian languages exceptionally problematic.

To sum it all up, when translation agencies hire medical translators, you can be assured that they do not allow anyone to be a medical translator. Even veteran physicians that do not have the language skills needed cannot be a medical translator. As made clear earlier, translation agencies always vet their medical translators with the most rigorous standards.

Why Medical Interpretation Services is Distinct from Translation Services

Medical translators and medical interpreters converge in areas such as having the right medical background plus advanced language skills, along with extensive knowledge with medical terminology in both languages. But true to the entire language industry, not all translators can be interpreters. Here’s a separate list that apart from the one above that designates medical interpretation services as a unique and distinct from medical translation services.

1. Medical Interpreters Need Separate Specialized Training

Interpreting generally requires a different set of training and required certifications. Translating medical terminology live is an extremely complex task. While translators have the freedom to pull up resources to aid their translation, interpreters don’t have that option. In short, medical interpreters need to have the ability to provide error-free translation on-site without the help of any resources other than their interpreting abilities and medical knowledge.

2. Medical Interpreters Have Culturally Understanding, Social Awareness, and People Skills

This deals with the soft skills of the medical interpreter. If both parties share different cultural and social perspectives on medical matters, the interpreter will naturally act as the bridge to offset any misunderstandings. Medical interpreters should also be empathetic and provide emotional support for the patient as the whole ordeal might bring the patient great distress.  

What Should Medical Tourists Do Before Going Abroad?

Here are a convenient checklist and some additional info before you set off to ensure that your medical trip abroad goes smoothly and you get the treatment and service that you need.

1. Hiring Professional Medical Translation Services

Before leaving, you should seek out professional medical translation services from a reputable translation agency. With professional medical document translation, you should be able to translate all of your pertinent documents.

You’d want to include every document relevant not only to your treatment such as medical tourism insurance documents but most importantly, your personal health records. Your personal health records list out everything from allergies, past major illnesses, recurring conditions, health complications, past operations and etc.

You’d really want all of this translated with utmost precision down to the punctuations because any mistranslation might lead to complications—or worse. That is why you cannot rely on any multilingual acquaintances, friends, or family members to do the translating for you.

2. Employing the Right Medical Interpreter

A professional translation agency also provides interpreting solutions and yes, medical interpretation services. Since they maintain a network of thousands of professional translators and professional interpreters worldwide, they should have no problem connecting you with a local medical interpreter and have them accompany you on your medical trip.

Just like medical translators, medical interpreters specialize in specific language pairs, have their own medical specialization, and are experienced with medical terminology in both languages. If you’re looking for a Spanish translator that specializes in cardiology and has extensive knowledge in English medical terminology, your chosen translation agency can find the best for you.

Since they can assist on the spot, they’ll be able to clarify any matters at your appointment with your foreign healthcare professional and eliminate any probability of miscommunication. Additionally, they can help you with matters related to your treatment such as payments, health care insurance plans, prescribed medicines written in the native language, and etc.

3. Have Family Members or Close Friends Accompany You

Depending on the nature of your medical trip and the severity of your medical condition, it is advisable to be accompanied by family members or close friends. This is especially required for individuals that have complications that prevent them from being fully capable by themselves, especially in another country.

Traveling to another country alone, especially if you have a medical condition is bound to bring you stress, anxiety, and even fear. Having familiar people accompany you is also a form of emotional support. They’ll help ease your mind, wave off thoughts of anxiety and stress, and even turn the entire experience into an enjoyable and memorable one.

4. Try to Choose Joint Commission International (JCI) Accredited Healthcare Centers

If you really want guaranteed quality healthcare, then opt for international healthcare centers that are JCI accredited. The Joint Commission is a U.S. based non-profit organization that accredits American and international healthcare centers. JCI accreditation is considered to be the Academy Awards in international healthcare accreditation.

If you manage to find a foreign healthcare center that is JCI accredited, that means it is officially classified as one of the country’s top-of-the-range healthcare centers that met stringent international standards. If your chosen foreign healthcare center offers the treatment you need, and is within your budget, by all means, go for it.

Final Takeaway: Medical Translation & Medical Interpretation as a Human Right

Even with a slump in medical tourism which is highly unlikely, medical translation & medical interpretation services will always be needed. Under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, every human is entitled to the Right to Health.

For many patients around the world, language barriers are the only obstacles they face to getting the treatment that they need. From migrant workers, first-generation immigrants, refugees, and of course medical tourists, everyone ought to have access to medical translation and medical interpretation services when they need it.