Automated software programs are notorious for making translation errors. Google Translate operates with artificial intelligence technology, meaning it learns how to formulate better translations based on user feedback. As a result, its translations will be more accurate for more commonly spoken languages and the most frequently used words and phrases.
Medical professionals, unfortunately, rely on these types of software to quickly translate diagnoses and instructions for patients. While health professionals have access to pre-printed information about common health conditions in various languages, these handouts do not include specific details for the patient, including post-appointment directions and prescription instructions.
A 2014 study completed by Sumant Patil and Patrick Davies published in the British Medical Journal concluded that Google Translate was only 57% accurate for translating medical phrases. Granted, the study is now seven years old, and considering the rate of advancement for technology, it is rather ancient.
In March 2021, an updated study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The goal of medical professionals Taira, Kreger, Orue, and Diamond was to determine whether or not today’s version of Google Translate is a more accurate and reliable tool for medical translations and if there are different rates of accuracy based on the language at hand.
Over the course of a year, this team gained cooperation from 20 individuals that were fluent in English as well as one of the languages they studied: Spanish (5), Armenian (2), Chinese (3), Tagalog (4), Korean (2), and Farsi (2). The research team chose these languages because they reflected the most popular non-English languages spoken by patients in the hospitals where they worked. Each participant evaluated the accuracy of 20 patient discharge statements for a total of 400 assessments.
Overall, Google Translate conveyed accurate meanings for 330 of the statements (82.5%). While this number seems adequate, 2 out of 10 patients leave medical care without the means necessary to act upon their physician’s diagnosis. In the medical profession, 100% accurate medical translations are critical.
Additionally, as suspected, the rate of accuracy varied greatly depending upon the language assessed:
- Spanish – 94%
- Tagalog – 90%
- Korean – 82.5%
- Chinese – 81.7%
- Farsi – 67.5%
- Armenian – 55%
The researchers noted that translation issues were not isolated to literal translation errors, but Google Translate also made mistakes a qualified human translator would easily avoid:
“Beyond the variability in the accuracy rates, we also found several issues related to [Google Translate] GT use that may not be appreciated by clinicians with limited knowledge of the target languages. For instance, when we first created our GT worksheets in Farsi, we found that the directionality of the written language was not accounted for by the software, i.e., that Farsi is written right to left. When we presented the Farsi GT worksheet to the initial volunteer, it was transposed to left to right by GT and was illegible.”
The team identified errors in the translations that were simply unacceptable in a professional environment:
English: “Do not blow your nose or put pressure on your facial fracture.”
Translated into Farsi: “Do not explode your nose because it could put pressure on the break in your face.”
English: “You can take over-the-counter ibuprofen as needed for pain.”
Translated into Armenian: “You may take anti-tank missile as much as you need for pain.”
When your work is important, rely on professional services from qualified translators.
Using software solutions may seem to make translation quick and efficient, but as this study has shown, it leaves a significant number of patients at risk for ongoing health issues or even death. Ensure you are always providing your patients with accurate medical translations by partnering with qualified translators at The Perfect Translation. Humans provide our translations with expertise in the industry and fluency in the target language and relevant customs. With The Perfect Translation at your side, you’ll rest assured you provide the best information to your patients regardless of the language they speak. Contact us today to learn more.