Medical translation


“Health, after all, is the summum bonum.” What matters in medical translation

The full Healthcare Marketing interview with oneword director and language expert Andrea Modersohn.

The July issue of the Healthcare Marketing specialist magazine features the article “Medical Translation: Communicating without Borders”, which deals with the high demands of professional and reliable translation in the international medical-pharmaceutical sector. Part of the article was an interview with oneword director Andrea Modersohn. It was summarised in the magazine, but the full interview offers further insights. That is why we are providing you with the complete version here.

Healthcare Marketing: Language is indispensable – if you want to reach people, you have to speak their language. What is the role of medical translations in healthcare marketing?

Andrea Modersohn: Information, products and services surrounding health are about trust, because consumers and patients are very uncertain and worried. Health, after all, is the summum bonum. Things being available in someone’s native language is important for clients to have the security they need in this sector. This means that it feels like the texts are speaking to them and they understand the content more easily and completely. In the B2B sector, using the relevant national language demonstrates that you are communicating with people as equals and helps to make a business seem professional and serious. Professional translations are crucial for anyone wanting to be present on the international market with their products and services and also wanting to be successful.

In addition to the reach and trust that medicine and health products enjoy through linguistically appealing and technically correct translations, they also have a significant influence on purchasing decisions, as more than 60 percent of all customers only buy products or services and access information if it is available in their own native language.

What is currently most in demand?

The range of marketing translations in the healthcare sector is diverse, because providers are present wherever their target groups are – and these are very diversely distributed across all age groups and life circumstances. This is compounded by the ever-shorter life cycle of marketing texts, especially in fast-moving media such as social media channels and healthcare apps, which continuously generate new texts that need to be available immediately in various languages.

Today, the majority of translations are still classic marketing translations geared towards the buyer and the target country via websites, catalogues or product brochures. However, in the meantime, requests are steadily increasing, especially for international SEO, app localisation, transcreation, subtitling and, above all, machine translation with subsequent review by professional post-editors, called MTPE for short. MTPE in particular allows the growing volume of texts to be translated in less time and at a lower cost, while maintaining the same quality.

Especially in marketing, the review process, involving subsidiaries in the target markets or native speakers in the company, is hugely important. Here, solutions that show the translation directly in the layout, but are seamlessly integrated into the process to make corrections sustainable and consistent, are in demand.

Content must take into account the legal and regulatory developments in different markets, changing expectations and constant innovation. What do you think the biggest opportunities and challenges in the medical translation fields are?

Medical translations are part of an interactive triangle that creates a particularly interesting basis for innovation. On the one hand, they are characterised by their very high quality standards, which includes the marketing sector, resulting from expecting to provide consumers with professionally correct and reliable information while at the same time excluding liability risks for any translation errors. On the other hand, content life cycles are becoming shorter and subsequent mini adaptations to texts are becoming more common, for example in software interfaces or user manuals, and this creates time challenges for multilingual translations. The apex of the triangle is the cost factor, which has to manage the balancing act between meeting these high quality standards and fast turnaround times for translations.

Medical translations; triangle with indications for costs, quality and time

Interactive triangle medical translations (Source: oneword GmbH)

Those companies focusing on consistent digitisation or automation and lean translation management without sacrificing essential quality factors, such as working with qualified and specialised professional translators, and ISO 17100 or ISO 18587 certified language service providers have an advantage over the competition. It is also important to have a well thought-out terminology management system for consistent corporate language in order to comply with legal and regulatory requirements across all texts and languages.

What does this mean for costs, which are an essential factor for companies?

Naturally, even if quality is at the forefront, the costs and time spent must remain manageable. In this context, machine translation in combination with professional post-editing, or MTPE for short, offers the opportunity to simultaneously cut both costs and time without having to compromise on quality. ISO-18587-certified service providers offer a process standard tailored to the relevant text type. This includes, for example, a qualified feasibility analysis, a clear definition of quality targets and efficient feedback management for trained and generic engines.

So is machine translation the panacea?

Not generally – or rather, only under the right conditions. A panacea for classical human translation or for MTPE in the medical translation field does not exist. Innovative translation management is just as diverse as each company’s processes and requirements. In close cooperation with a professional service provider, individually tailored processes can be defined that can meet the requirements. Tailored panaceas, so to speak.

Keyword transcreation: What do you need to consider when developing healthcare campaigns for new markets using cultural insights?

The first priority is to select the right language experts. Traditional marketing translations for medicine and medical technology should be produced by professional, native-speaker translators who not only specialise in the relevant healthcare sector, but also have the necessary marketing expertise to strike the right tone and address the customers in the target market skilfully and with a confident style. ISO 17100, the international standard for translation services, provides a sensible minimum requirement for these professional translators.

But transcreation goes one step further …

Indeed, it does. Where traditional marketing translation makes linguistic and cultural adjustments in the target text, transcreation deliberately detaches itself from the source text. The goal is not to merely transfer the original, but to create an inspired new text that brings out the intention, tone, humour and even the emotions of the advertising and brand message in its own words.

A good transcreation requires not only specialised transcreation experts with the appropriate medical knowledge, but also a detailed brief that clearly formulates the goals and expectations of the campaign.
The more background information on the company, the product, the brand identity as well as the target group, intention and tone of voice the brief offers, the better the creative translators can convey the desired message.

What is the significance of digitalisation in translation? And why is it still necessary to have skilled personnel if software could also do the job?

In the translation sector, too, software solutions now make it possible to automate many administrative steps, from commissioning and creating projects to delivery and invoicing. Nevertheless, it calls for skilled professionals who can seamlessly pick up where software and artificial intelligence reach their limits, reacting to changing conditions in a far more efficient, flexible and, therefore, cost-effective way.

Artificial intelligence, for example in the form of machine translation systems, is also becoming more prevalent in the medical and medical technology sectors, as it creates far-reaching productivity gains and cost savings. The key phrase is: Translations at the touch of a button.

But here, too, artificial intelligence and machine translation are not a panacea?

Exactly. Because no machines have delivered error-free translations yet. Therefore, our motto is: With AI and brains: This is exactly why qualified experts are required, whether in project management, translation, post-editing or quality control, who are aware of the problems and sources of errors and can find successful solutions to them.

Depending on the target language, machines can also achieve very good results with marketing texts and deliver a first “rough version”, which is then checked and corrected by professional post-editors, who look at the subject matter, content and language. Post-editing according to ISO 18587 is crucial, especially in areas with liability issues, such as medical translations.


In a nutshell, no matter from which source a text originates, whether human or artificially generated, we will always need to “read over it”, to check the result, to ensure quality. Because how “fit for purpose” the human or artificial author is can only be judged from the result. Mistakes happen everywhere. Humans think differently to machines. And the machine has its own strengths here.

After all, even if machine translations seem to read smoothly, the devil is always in the detail. From omissions or arbitrary additions and incorrect specialised terms to errors in content and even discrimination, the range of sources of error is wide. And the better the machines translate, the more subtle these errors become. Post-editing is therefore a cognitively demanding task, even if many users of machine translation would actually trust themselves to “smooth out” the MT output. In our MTPE projects, between 33 and 66 per cent of the MT result is still linguistically revised. The adjustments are sometimes really minimal, but an omitted “not” can also have serious consequences.

What do you think competition and market development will be like in the translation industry in the future?

International communication has been growing steadily for decades. It is faster, more diverse and more interconnected. Companies are relying more than ever on individual solutions, because language creates recognition value in marketing. The volume of content, the number of languages relevant to the target market and, therefore, the volume of translations has increased to such an extent that human specialists – translators and post-editors alike – are reaching their limits. Using AI to support them and technology to increase productivity, for example machine translation systems in combination with automated, lean and agile translation processes, is therefore inevitable. This is the only way to continue to guarantee consistently high quality at affordable costs as demand grows.

High performers in the translation industry must have a large portfolio paired with in-depth technical expertise to be able to flexibly adapt to individual requirements. Uncomplicated processes for commissioning, checking and reviewing are actually already standard: data-secure software and cloud solutions enable companies to access their projects, translations and central terminology management independently of time and location. Therefore, language service providers fit seamlessly into corporate processes and can act as an extended workbench.

And what is your perspective? Who will win the race?

These high professional and technical demands are leading to two parallel developments among translation and language service providers. On the one hand, there is the trend in companies merging, sometimes culminating in “super agencies”, in order to remain competitive. On the other hand, highly specialised providers, sometimes referred to as “boutiques”, are emerging with maximum customer proximity.

In the next ten years, we believe that process and software innovations in the translation sector, as well as far-reaching degrees of specialisation, will significantly shape competition. Certifications in accordance with ISO 17100 and ISO 18587 are now crucial in the translation sector, but they are no longer sufficient as a unique selling point and the only promise of quality.

Thank you very much for the interview.

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

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