Machine translation in medical technology? A question of trust and certainty

In the magazine produced for Böblingen’s Health Week event, an article has just been published in which our head of MTPE and terminology management, Jasmin Nesbigall, discusses the use of machine translation in medical technology and healthcare. This is a sensitive area in which there is more to be said than would fit in the limited space permitted for the article. So here is the longer version including all Jasmin’s insights and further details.

If you are going to trust someone, you need to be able to understand them – in any language

Medical technology and healthcare are very specialised and include many technical terms that are often difficult for laypeople to understand. In fact, you just about need a translation for German package inserts in order to understand them because this is exactly the kind of situation where it is important to convey all the necessary information. More so than in other areas, medical and healthcare products and services are a matter of trust. Health, after all, is the summum bonum.

Being able to access information in your native language is an important factor in creating the desired and necessary certainty. It is the key to ensuring that patients and clients feel that they are being catered for and can fully understand the content and information more easily. In most cases, medical/medical-technical products and services are only purchased if the corresponding information is available in the user’s mother tongue. This makes it all the more important for providers in the medical technology and healthcare sectors to translate content into all the relevant languages.

Highest quality at manageable costs – it’s a balancing act

Even though quality is paramount, time and cost are of course also factors. Especially given the amount of information to be translated into many languages, and the level of detail, the effort must remain manageable. Machine translation (MT), which has now established itself in many cases as a practical everyday tool, could provide a solution here.
But – at this point you have to imagine the admonishing voice from a drug advertisement – can machine translation really be the solution? With such sensitive texts and the vital importance of reliable and comprehensible information?

Yes, it can. Only differently and more precisely than you may think at first. This is because freely available machine translation systems are neither accurate and secure enough, nor are they familiar with the specific technical terminologies. (The provider DeepL itself points out in point 8.1.1 of its extensive Terms and Conditions that the system may not be used for translations relating to critical infrastructure or medical appliances.)

Machine translation and human expertise – an effective combination

The solution is the human-in-the-loop approach or machine translation in combination with professional post-editing. Machine Translation + Post-Editing (MTPE) allows time and money to be used efficiently without compromising on quality – even in medical technology and healthcare.

In the MTPE process, the MT system provides a machine pre-translation that is checked and corrected by human post-editors. This significantly reduces the time and costs required for the initial translation. With post-editing, the desired high quality is achieved as if a human being had done the work in the first place. The time and cost elements can be reduced even further by using pre-trained MT systems from the medical sector or by individually training your own MT system based on previous translations. Experienced MT providers, such as our partner Textshuttle, deliver very good results even in medical technology and healthcare. Janine Aeberhard, Linguistic Director at Textshuttle:

If a machine translation system is shown selected subject- and company-specific translations during training, then the system learns from these. This enables us to produce specialised machine translations even in the field of medical technology, which not only render complex technical terms correctly, but also take into account company-specific style specifications. Combined with human review in the post-editing stage, the result is translations that meet the highest quality standards while being cost-efficient.

Depending on the provider, specific terminology can also be used with both generic and specialised MT systems, either via the training data or by specifying it in the form of glossaries. The relevant processes are already well-tried and proven in practical use, with the result that they are ready and waiting for all international companies.

Do you need professional, secure and high-quality translations in medical or medical-technical communication? Then talk to us. Our experts in medical translation will be happy to advise you on the options available to you.

For further insights on this topic, we also recommend this informative interview with oneword managing director and language expert Andrea Modersohn in the trade magazine Healthcare Marketing.

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