Difficulties in Medical Translation

July 16th, 2010
As noted in a previous blog, medical translation requires specialized knowledge in addition to proficiency in the language pair to be translated. One of the problems faced by medical translators is the free use of abbreviations and acronyms in the field of medicine. They are defined differently in various dictionaries and scientific literature. A commonly used definition of acronyms and abbreviations is given below. An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase used for convenience and is spelled differently depending on language. It is mostly expressed in small letters. An acronym is a word created from the initial letters of a phrase or string of words. An acronym is mostly expressed in capital letters. Both abbreviations and acronyms are usually listed separately in dictionaries. The prevalence of use of abbreviations and acronyms in the medical field is high due to reasons of history as well due to the saving of time and space that they provide in emergencies. They are popular in both forms of communication i.e. written like prescriptions, reports etc as well as in oral communication. The medical names of many diseases as well as the original name of chemical compounds prescribed for their cure have traditionally been long and unwieldy, hindering communication. Some examples are electroencephalogram (EEG), electrocardiogram (ECG), acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), white blood count (WBC), etc. But the flip side of use of abbreviations and acronyms is that their true meaning becomes inaccessible to patients for whom the therapy is meant. Adding to the difficulties of a medical translator is the multiple meanings of the same abbreviation or acronym. Depending on the context, the translator has to choose the right meaning. This fact increases the need for engaging professional translation service for translating medical documents. Some examples are: CLOT can mean Coagulation, Lysis or Thrombosis; Cost Lowering Options for optimizing outcomes in Thrombosis or Comparison of Low molecular weight heparin vs Oral anticoagulant therapy for the prevention of recurrent venous Thromboembolism in patients with cancer GCS can mean Glasgow Coma Scale or General Clinical Status OP can mean outpatient or original pack Both Latin and Greek origin words are freely abbreviated particularly in the branches of clinical medicine, anatomy and pharmacy. Fortunately since many of the European languages are Latin based, the abbreviations used are the same in those languages. Some examples of abbreviations which are of Latin or Greek origin used in medical field are: s.i. which refers to sine indicatione or semis interna P.S. referring to paroi septale P.P. referring to paroi posterieure Thus a medical translator has to have a deep understanding of the subject as well as inclination for research to get accurate medical translations done.