Role Of Medical Translators and Interpreters in the Covid Crisis


Posted May 7, 2020 by Tomedes

What is the role of the medical translators and certified medical interpreters during the Covid-19 crisis? How has the current global pandemic impacted the work of medical interpreters and translators?

The current Covid-19 global pandemic has directly impacted virtually everyone in the world, save for some very isolated tribes in the Amazon, Indian Ocean and perhaps in the innermost areas of Africa. During times of crisis, there arise many heroes, most just doing their jobs.

More often still, these heroes remain largely unsung, working in more remote locations, doing their part to bring things like the coronavirus crisis to a successful conclusion. Such is the case of medical interpreters and those people providing medical document translations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

All around the world, academic institutions, medical and research laboratories and others are working in a concerted effort to devise a means to defeat or at least contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak of 2020. In order for all of these people to communicate, they rely on a virtual army of medical interpreters and translators.

WHO, Medical Translation and Interpretation

The World Health Organization or WHO is at the forefront of the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. For even the smallest of meetings, a minimum of fourteen live interpreters are required and each document written must be immediately translated into all six official languages of the WHO. The official languages of the WHO include Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. 

The fourteen interpreters will include two each for English, French, Russian, and Spanish, and three for both Arabic and Chinese. Upon the successful conclusion of any meeting, the minutes of the meeting and any other documentation resulting must then be translated into almost two hundred languages, with each medical document translation being specific enough to create additional translations without error.

To accomplish this feat, a small army of certified medical translators is employed to quickly and accurately translate all of these documents so that they can be distributed globally. Likewise, each recipient of this information must likewise make all of its research available in numerous languages if it is to be of any use in the global fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

Medical Interpreters and Medical Translation during Medical Crisis

The global Covid-19 pandemic has had an adverse impact on business and industry on a global scale. This has resulted in many, mostly small and medium companies suffering undue hardship and often facing bankruptcy or otherwise forced to close.

Conversely, in times of crisis, the demand for certified translators and interpreters will generally increase, as global relations become imperative to prevent an expanded global crisis from fomenting and becoming worse for nations, businesses and individuals.

As has been noted through the ongoing efforts in the battle against Covid-19, this is somewhat a selective process, often fueled by technological advances. Even the hallowed halls of the World Health Organization and the United Nations are largely empty these days.

Many of those people who were live interpreters are prevented from doing their jobs due to government mandated lock downs or even full quarantine measures in some locations. In the pre-corona world, local medical professionals often disregarded the need for medical interpreters entirely.

The reasoning according to some polls of doctors, indicated that the doctors felt the inclusion of a certified medical interpreter may unduly complicate the doctor-client relationship. Far too often, their solution included just using a friend, family member or any other person who may have been available on the spur of the moment.

This however, can be particularly devastating in the world of medical translation, especially during times of a global pandemic. There are many non-specific terms for the layman, all of which have a very distinct and unique medical purpose when used in the form of medical terminology.

While that friend or family member may have a complete and intimate knowledge of both languages, their medical interpretation will still fall short without an equally comprehensive knowledge of the exact nature of the medical terms at play in the translation.

Such a seemingly innocuous error in a medical interpretation may appear harmless, but it may in fact inhibit the prevention of the spread of disease, result in a misdiagnosis or improper treatment guidelines, all of which could help to spread Covid-19, potentially endangering anyone who may have contact with the patient.

While the need for live interpreters has greatly diminished, technology has provided solutions in the form of the telehealth industry which has experienced unprecedented growth during the current coronavirus outbreak.

Telehealth and Remote Medical Video Interpretation

The telehealth industry has seen a massive increase in use since the Covid epidemic went global. Among the most common expansions within the telehealth industry has been an increase in the number of remote video interpreters. While these are largely encapsulated within medical interpretation services, other remote video interpretation services have also seen an increase, though not to the same degree during the ongoing global pandemic.

Remote medical diagnostic services are also almost as popular as remote medical interpretation, though as much by necessity as by design. There has also been a major increase in the use of medical translation apps and other mobile device technologies designed to assist during any medical crisis, regardless of whether or not it is global.

There are an increasing number of incidents in more remote, sometimes dangerous locations that prevent a doctor or other health care professionals from visiting directly. In these cases, there are an increased number of remote doctor consultations. Effectively a remote video conference with a medical professional or other health care specialist.

It should be noted that in many cases, this will also require the presence of a certified medical interpreter as well, given the nature of the coronavirus pandemic. While it would be nice to say that all of this is a great occurrence for remote video interpreters and other certified medical translators, the reality is that this is a tragic occurrence for virtually everyone involved.

At the same time however, it does create certain opportunities for those who think that they have what it takes to become certified medical translators or interpreters.

How do I Become a Medical Translator or Interpreter

How do I become a medical translator or a medical interpreter? Becoming a certified medical interpreter will require not only an intimate knowledge of both languages, but also an equally intimate familiarity with very specific medical terminology. There are however, many ways to get started.

Assuming there is no existing experience with a second language, the first step would be mastering another language, preferably one that is in high demand for interpreters and translators. Presuming that there is already an existing knowledge of both languages, consideration needs to be given to the process of localization in translation and interpreting skills.

Someone learning Spanish may learn a very localized language without realizing it as such. The Spanish that is spoken in Spain will be different than that spoken in Mexico which will be different from the Spanish spoken in the Caribbean. Not only will this result in a more localized vernacular, but also different words and terms for the sake of medical interpretations and document translation services.

Medical terminology for medical interpreters and document translators can be assisted by reading the same medical books in both languages, though it certainly helps to have an existing familiarity with some of the more specific medical verbiage in both languages. A medical degree is not necessarily required to become a certified medical interpreter, but it sure does not hurt either.

Among the most notable characteristics of certified medical interpreters are three that are requisite for the job, though often overlooked, even by many translation agencies.

The medical interpreter must be able to translate quite literally in some cases, while at other times, translating localized vernacular or other localized expressions in a more figurative sense. “Sicker than a dog” may be fully recognizable to some as meaning that the person is exceptionally sick, but a literal medical interpretation of this expression may leave the doctor somewhat lacking in relevant information.

The medical interpreter must be empathetic to the needs of both the doctor and the patient, without inserting themselves as an interested party in the middle of the conversation. While this may sound easy, it is very easy to get caught up in this, and to have a desire to interpret intentions rather than the actual conversation.

Among the most pressing matters for professional medical interpreters, may be the ability to reject the spotlight. If fame is your goal, medical interpreting and translation may not be the ideal career choice. Perhaps even more during times of medical crisis like the present Covid-19 pandemic, hoards of certified medical translators and interpreters will be busily working behind the scenes to make good things happen.

The medical translators and interpreters will receive very little of the credit, kudos or other accolades for their work. While this is not really a major concern for some people, for others, it is more anonymity than they will be comfortable with, especially once all of the work is done and people are celebrating their successes without them.

Why Medical Translation is Important

Regardless of whether or not you have what it takes to become a certified medical interpreter or translator, there should be no underestimating the purpose that these individuals serve. Never is this more readily apparent than during times like these, when the Covid-19 global pandemic is threatening not only the people of the world, but the global economy at the same time.

While these medical translators and interpreters may never be in the spotlight replete with ticker tape parades, they will always be on the front lines in the battle against the global Covid-19 pandemic and any other medical crisis that comes our way. 

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Categories Industry , Medical
Tags Medical Translation , Interpreters , Coronavirus , COVID-19
Last Updated May 7, 2020