There are currently about 430 languages spoken around the US and over 25 million individuals are Limited English Proficient (LEP). With this, healthcare providers across the states are mandated to provide language services to prevent the language barrier in the industry. Despite that, there are still some hospitals that cannot afford to hire medical translators.

With the constant technological advancements, it is surprising that there is still no reliable medical translation software available. This could solve the issues of language barriers between hospitals and LEP patients. Still, developers are facing major challenges in securing the reliability and accuracy of artificial intelligence in medical jargon.

In this article, we will discuss the challenges in developing accurate medical translation software and its options.

The state of medical translation services in healthcare facilities

Medical translation is essential in providing healthcare access to LEP patients. It helps avoid miscommunication and misdiagnosis due to the language barrier in the health industry. According to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is a legal requirement for healthcare facilities to provide language services for their patients. 

However, there are still a lot of hospitals in the US that are not following this. According to a study from Oman Medical Journal, 70.7% of limited English proficiency patients (LEPPs) claim that there is limited access to medical translation in the hospitals that they’ve been in. This is an alarming number that can cause several issues in the healthcare system.

One of the main reasons for this is that there are not enough medical translators available in the field. Being bilingual is not the only requirement for them. The medical translation services need substantial knowledge within a wide array of medical and life science sectors. They must have adequate training and certifications to be considered in the field. Due to these requirements, professional medical translators are rarer and more expensive than in other industries.

To avoid big expenses in hiring professional translators, hospitals end up hiring bilingual employees and using translation software. However, these solutions can’t promise accuracy and reliability.

In 2011, two fourth-year medical students developed a mobile app for medical translation which is called MediBabble. It seems promising at that time and was even number one in the 2011 Medical App Awards. However, the limitation in data, incompatibility in other devices, and the number of available languages became its major issues. As of now, there is still no update about this application.

The issues with medical translation software

Using medical translation software is convenient for hospitals that can’t afford professional translators. It does not only provide automation but also promises a quick turnaround of important document translations for patient forms, consents, diagnosis, and even researches. However, using AI in the medical field is complicated due to its inaccurate translations and lack of industry expertise.

Here are some of the issues with medical translation software:

  • Number of languages

Unlike in marketing, you can’t just set a target market and translate your content depending on the languages they use in healthcare facilities. Hospitals need to provide language access to all of their LEPPs by translating essential documents and forms. However, it will be difficult to develop software that can support over 350 languages that are commonly used in the US. Aside from that, the software also needs to know various medical jargon used in different languages.

  • Direct translations

One of the other problems with translation software is its tendency to do direct translations that can be inappropriate and inaccurate most of the time. In the medical field, every word is important and a single mistranslation can cause a large issue with the medication of the patient. Thus, the current technology of artificial intelligence is still not enough to cater to the needs of hospitals.

  • Privacy

Medical translation software is an artificial intelligence that collects, stores, and uses data for effective translations. However, this data collection is highly dangerous in the medical field due to the importance of medical history records privacy. If a developer is aspiring to create a reliable medical translation AI, he or she must provide high confidentiality standards.

Post-editing machine translation in the medical industry

If hiring a translator is expensive and using medical translation software is not reliable, then what is the best alternative for this? The best answer for that is the post-editing machine translation. This is the process wherein the documents will be translated using translation software. To ensure accuracy, human translators will check the documents and edit the translations.

Here are some reasons why post-editing machine translation is the best option:

  • Accuracy

The problem with machine translations is its inaccuracy and tendency for direct translations. This is critical in the medical field where a single mistake could cost a life. However, if human translators will check and proofread the translated documents, hospitals can prevent mistranslations while maintaining the convenience of using automation.

  • Quick turn-around

One of the issues in translating documents through professionals is the processing time. This is why if possible, other industries are using translation software with its automated feature. However, there are actually medical translation services that are doing post-editing machine translation to maintain accuracy, convenience, and fast turnaround of projects.

  • Efficiency

The reason behind the refusal of hospitals to hire professional medical translation is the price of getting one. However, the method of post-editing machine translation is more efficient and cost-cutting. You’ll only need to pay for human labor and expertise in a shorter time because the software will do most of the job.

Conclusion

The existence of accurate and convenient medical translation software is going to be a big break in the healthcare industry. Developers are expecting that with the continuous growth in technology, the day will come that a reliable medical AI translator will be created. But until then, hiring professional medical translators using the post-editing machine translation will remain the best option. However, healthcare providers must ensure to set a high requirement for their translators to avoid mistranslations and medical errors. 

Cite this article as:
Editorial Staff, "The Challenges in Developing an Accurate Medical Translation Software," in Medicalopedia, April 13, 2021, [Permalink: https://www.medicalopedia.org/9666/the-challenges-in-developing-an-accurate-medical-translation-software/].