Translating medical reports can often be a demanding task, especially if you are a beginner. I’ve recently started fulfilling this kind of assignment and noticed that there are so many issues to deal with in order to make sure of a satisfactory final product.


First of all, the text setup: I expected to receive PDFs or Word files, but actually, they often turn out to be barely legible scans or pictures of the original documents (especially when they are sent directly from the patient). As a consequence, I need more time per word than a standard translation and a high level of concentration to work out the actual contents.

Doing some research, I came across an article about Optical Character Recognition (OCR) tools, such as ABBYY FineReader, which are able to convert scans into Word texts, making them readable. It is always necessary to double-check the new version of the files, as there may be letters and numbers mix-ups due to the similarity among them, but I still believe they represent a suitable solution in some cases. 

I find it even more challenging whenever clients send handwritten texts, which can be quite hard to decipher. In cases where I’m not sure about how to interpret one or few words, I usually replace them with the word “illegible”, whereas if I have doubts about the whole text or most of it, I prefer to decline the assignment and you can’t guess at these kinds of translations.




Terminology: there can be plenty of acronyms in the same file and working their meaning out is not always easy, as well as finding their equivalent abbreviation in the target language. Whenever I find one, I first take a thorough look at the text, as it might come up in full subsequently. If not, I try to get a general idea from the context before I search for it on the internet: I normally opt for the medical dictionary from the translation platform, which comes in handy not only for acronyms, but also for any term or phrase related to the subject.

In addition, I have recently discovered about MediLexicon, which is specific for English abbreviations.

Once I know the meaning of the acronym, I google it followed by “abbreviation in + target language”. In case I can’t find it, I prefer to write the whole phrase rather than make a wild guess.




Another matter concerning medical terminology is represented by drug names. I habitually keep them in the source language followed by their International Nonproprietary name (INN): as the same type of medicine is likely to have a different designation in each country, the World Health Organisation has issued generic and internationally recognised names in order to avoid misunderstandings in prescriptions. They can be found on the WHO MedNet INN database.

Tight deadlines: it happens quite often that clients send me translations due in one hour or even less. The longest deadline I have had was one day and a half.

Huge responsibility: I do believe that every translation has to be taken seriously no matter the area of specialisation, although it is also true that in case of medical reports I am dealing with patients health conditions, sometimes serious illnesses and just a little mistake can lead to severe consequences. Therefore, I think it is essential that I am completely sure about what I write.


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