The zero error tolerance principle

In the world of medicine, there is no room for error. It’s a field in which great pains must be taken to eliminate human error to the maximum possible extent. That’s why the instruments and products used by medical practitioners have to function perfectly; that requires them to be used correctly, of course, and that’s why their technical documentation also has to be error-free and, most importantly, impossible to misinterpret. Errors in translation, or translations that could be interpreted ambiguously and lead to human error, can lead to damaged equipment or, in the worst case, a human toll. That’s why the zero error tolerance principle has to apply in this field: absolutely, always, no exceptions. If you love marketing translations or literary translations, where playing with language is part of the game and freeing yourself from the source text is what makes for good translation style, that’s all well and good, but when a medtech translation comes along you need to change your whole approach. That can be a bigger challenge than you think, and put you under a lot of pressure. And the demands on the proofreading are similarly high; it requires more concentration and precision than is required in many other fields. Here the proofreader have to be checking meticulously for complete adherence to the original text, and be extremely careful not to introduce “improvements” that are actually departures from the source.

Standards as a foundation of quality control

If you pride yourself on your creativity and free translation is your forte, you may find working with standards and following these principles very stifling and burdensome. But I would say that it’s these rules that make translating documents for the medtech industry so rewarding. When I follow the format, apply the established formulations and required terminology, I am guaranteeing that I am producing a correct and accurate translation. Standards help, because having to check them regularly makes for an added quality control step built into the translation process (hopefully, in addition to the one you are already using!). If I am confident that the terminology used in the standard and the client’s glossary is correct, that the medical device, its functionality and its properties have been assessed by the appropriate Notified Body, and that the source text was prepared in observance of all the relevant requirements, then all I have to do is follow these rules and I know my translation will be of a high standard.

The rewarding side of translating medtech

The bottom line is, I don’t see that standards make translating in medtech more difficult. On the contrary, I find they actually make the translator’s life easier. I see the challenges and the rewards in producing a translation that I can be sure leaves no room for misinterpretation. I’m gratified when I think of the certainty that this offers the manufacturer of the medical device and the institutions and organizations that use them. And I know that ultimately, when the time comes for us to be the patient, we all benefit. That’s what makes specializing in the field of medtech so exciting for me as a translator: focusing so strictly on structure and rules, and learning to rein in my own creativity, style and personal touch, is a challenge that, when I succeed, makes me feel like I’m making the world a more understandable place.

Translation from German by Kyle Wohlmut

Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash