Translation of Medications and Drugs

Jan 6, 2016 · 3 min

When it comes to translations in the medical field, particularly for medications, it’s really important that there are no errors in comprehension, suppression, or change of information.

Translation of Medications and Drugs | One Hour Translation

When it comes to translations in the medical field, particularly for medications, it’s really important that there are no errors in comprehension, suppression, or change of information. In this case, as opposed to other cases where the consequences of mistranslations are usually just monitory, the incorrect translation of a specific word, or even getting the wrong dosage, could easily be a matter of life and death.

The translation of any medical text requires translators who are experienced and highly specialised in the field in question; ones who are pedantic about the correct translation of words.

The Difference between Medications and Drugs

We know from experience that the translation of medical texts can present numerous complications, but in this post we’ll focus on one aspect of medicine, and that’s medications and drugs. To start with, we must clarify that the words ‘medications’ and ‘drugs’ are not synonyms. In defining ‘medication’ we’d say that it’s a substance with a pharmacological effect, which means that it’s chemically active with an effect on the organism. In the pharmaceutical setting, ‘drugs’ is the commercial representation of a medication, which means that a drug’s not just the active ingredient - it’s also the final substance that’s marketed to consumers, and this includes excipients and the presentation of the product (tablets, powder, and so on).

Different Ways of Referring to Medications or Drugs

One of the difficulties that we see with handwritten medical texts in English is that, depending on the author, they might use one of three ways to refer to medications or drugs; such as –

  • Common names with no international validity;
  • Use of commercial brands; or
  • Use of International Non-Proprietary Names, as recommended by the WHO.

Of the three items listed above, the third item is the least complicated for the translator, because the equivalent in Spanish or any other language can be quite quickly and easily accessed. With the second item as listed above, a decision must be made about whether to retain the commercial brand name, replace it with the INN of the active ingredient, or to use the equivalent trademark for the destination country. The commercial brand name is usually easily identified because it appears in capital letters and is joined by the sign for a registered (“®”) or unregistered (“™”) trademark symbol.

The Problems Arise with Common Names with No International Validity

It’s the first item where the real problem arises, because the names that are used locally often differ from those used internationally; and even if the translator was to translate using the INN it’s still more difficult to find the correct term within the areas where they normally work. As an example, acetaminophen in the United States is used to refer to what is internationally known as paracetamol.

Of course there are many complications that can arise when reviewing or working on a medical translation, and this is just one reason why it’s so essential to use only highly qualified translators during every step of the translation process.

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