Risks and Consequences of Mistranslation in the Medical Industry


The medical industry is a field where errors are unacceptable. Why is it so? It is because errors can cause loss of human life and other irreversible damages. For this reason, medics do all they can to prevent errors in their operations.

What are some of the causes of errors in the medical industry? One of the causes of errors entails the mistranslation of pharmaceutical content. In this post, we shall address the risks and consequences of mistranslation in the pharmaceutical industry. Let’s get started.

Aggravation of the Health Condition of a Patient

Mistranslation can lead to the administration of the wrong medical intervention to a patient. In return, the health condition of the patient can become worse.

For example, if a medicine has a wrongly translated label, it cannot affect a patient’s condition. For this reason, the patient can continue living with the pharmaceutical condition they intended to treat. If the condition continues untreated, it can become worse.

If the patient stays with a health condition for too long, it can become impossible to treat it. One of the implications of untreated health conditions is permanent impairment. When the medics realize the untreated condition late, they can recommend the removal of the affected body part. Such an exercise translates to a loss of a body part or permanent impairment.

To solve the mistranslation of medicine labels, pharmaceutical industries must collaborate with the providers of medical translation services. Such providers ensure that all medicine labels indicate the correct description of the medicine. Also, they ensure that the content of the medicine labels is understandable and acceptable to the medicine recipients.

Emotional Damage to Health Professionals

Notably, health professionals operate with the best interest of the patients in their mind. However, pharmaceutical mistranslation can mislead them. If such an instance occurs, medics feel shame, guilt, and self-doubt. In return, such feelings hamper the productivity of the medics. The feelings can also cause various psychological issues that can affect the medics.

How would you feel if all you did seemed right, but the outcomes were wrong?

You may start a self-examination to ascertain the causes of the error. During the self-examination process, you cannot feel okay. First, you can think of the suffering you caused to the recipient of your services.

Secondly, you might think you do not know how to serve your patients. Lastly, you might think about what will happen next. All these feelings are uncomfortable.

If only the pharmaceutical supplies carry the right description, it can become possible to reduce medical errors significantly. This strategy is not the only one that can eliminate pharmaceutical errors. However, it is a contributing factor toward the eradication and reduction of pharmaceutical errors.


Medics owe a duty of care to their patients. For this reason, patients can sue them whenever they become negligent.

When does negligence arise in the medical industry? When patients visit a hospital, they expect the medics to apply the best skills to treat them.

In other words, the patients expect the hospital to employ qualified medics that are experts in treating any medical condition that falls under their specialty. So, it is hard to convince a patient that a medic did not know how a pharmaceutical error happened.

Whenever a medical error happens because of mistranslation, the family and friends of the affected patient can press charges against the hospital or specific medic. The availability of strong evidence can translate to a medic’s guilty verdict. In return, the medic can pay a fine, lose their practicing license, or face other law-related implications.

Lawsuits have a double punishment. First, the medic can pay fines and penalties, serve a jail term, or lose a practicing certificate. Afterward, the medic can suffer severe emotional damage. Also, the emotional damages can be long-lasting, unlike a fine or jail term, which is finite.

If the lawsuit is against a pharmaceutical institution, the resultant implications can include loss of reputation. In such an instance, patients can avoid getting medical services from the institution. For this reason, the institution can suffer massive operational losses, leading to its closure.

Also, an institution facing a lawsuit because of mistranslation can waste many resources when attending to the lawsuits. In the absence of the lawsuit, the resources that a medical institution could use on the lawsuit can go towards improving service delivery.

Unnecessary Medical Processes

Sometimes, mistranslation in the pharmaceutical industry can give rise to unnecessary medical processes. Firstly, it takes a repeated pharmaceutical process to correct the erroneous one. In such an instance, the patient and the medical facility that made an error incur extra time and costs.

Secondly, mistranslation can lead to several medical processes instead of a few correct ones. For example, in surgery, mistranslation can lead to a lengthy surgery process to locate an affected body part. On the other hand, the correct surgery process is precise and to the point. Subsequently, the surgeons use less time and resources.

If the correct translation applies in the pharmaceutical industry, the medics can use a lean service delivery process. In return, they can avoid the high costs of medical service delivery.

Untimely Medical Service Delivery

In an instance when the medics notice a mistranslation, they can take time to get it corrected. In return, they can delay their service delivery.

Is such an instance good or bad? Well, it has a positive and a negative side. Positively, the medics can avoid giving the wrong treatment to a patient. In return, they can save a life and prevent a long-term impairment of a patient. However, the identification of a mistranslation can delay pharmaceutical service delivery and give rise to several other losses, including aggravation of a patient’s health condition.

Nevertheless, the medics can avoid consequences related to untimely pharmaceutical service delivery by referring a patient to another medical facility. Such an option can save a life, even though it translates into a financial loss to the affected pharmaceutical facility.

Violation of the Medical Code of Ethics

One of the tenets of the medical code of ethics entails acting in the patient’s best interest. In other words, medics should ensure that all they do to a patient goes towards improving the patient’s health condition. Whenever a medic does something that makes a patient’s condition deteriorate, such a medic violates the pharmaceutical code of ethics.

Even though mistranslation leads to an unintentional violation of the pharmaceutical code of ethics, the medic nonetheless violates the code. So, a medic cannot claim innocence because they did not act in the best interest of a patient.

How does Mistranslation Occur in the Medical Industry?

Medical mistranslation occurs because of several reasons. Some of the reasons are as follows:

Direct Translation of Words

Notably, translation does not entail word-for-word conversion. Some languages can employ more than one word to translate English words. The same happens when translating words from different languages. If a translator uses a word-for-word approach, the resultant translated content can feature several errors.

Also, words do not have the same meaning when translated into different languages. If a translator applies a similar meaning to words during a translation process, the resultant translated content can be erroneous. If such an error happens in the medical industry, the medics can use the wrong interventions to treat patients.

Untrained Translators

If you pick one of your staff members to translate your medical content, expect mistranslation errors to happen. The same can happen when you engage non-pharmaceutical  translators.

For high-quality and accurate translation, always engage trained medical translators. Such translators understand all pharmaceutical terminology. Also, they know the right format to apply to the translated content, besides understanding the applicable standards.

So, always employ professional medical translators instead of engaging your family, colleagues, and friends to translate your pharmaceutical content.

Erroneous Original Text

High-quality medical translation encompasses ascertaining whether the original text is correct. If you translate erroneous original content, the translated content will also have errors. Some errors to look out for in the original text include abbreviations, synonyms, and wrongly used words.

Qualities of the Best Medical Translator

To avoid medical mistranslation, always engage the best pharmaceutical translator with the following qualities:

  • Expert and extensive subject matter knowledge: The best medical translation is not the one that knows all pharmaceutical areas. Rather, they are the ones that are experts in one or a few pharmaceutical areas.
  • Experience in working in the medical sector
  • Native-level target language knowledge
  • Ability to initiate isotonic and intrinsic thought processes of a target reader with the translated content
  • Ability to apply terminological consistency related to the subject pharmaceutical topic
  • Ability to employ editorial judgment without becoming ambiguous to convey a clear message

The Bottom Line

Latino Bridge, a language service provider (LSP), believes that pharmaceutical translation is not similar to the translation of other fields. It requires high-quality precision and accuracy because any mistranslation can give rise to severe consequences, including loss of life. So, always engage professional pharmaceutical translators or outsource medical translation services to avoid errors.