Translation in Health Care: Cautionary Tales

In health care, two out of every three mistranslations have clinical consequences, according to a 2003 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to an article by Dr. Glenn Flores, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, one hospital paid $71 million in a malpractice suit as a result of poor translation. A Spanish-speaking 18-year-old collapsed on his girlfriend’s floor after telling her he felt “intoxicado.” When the girlfriend and her mother repeated the word to English-speaking paramedics, they took it to mean “intoxicated” rather than “nauseated” and treated the patient for drug overdose. Thirty-six hours later, the patient was reevaluated and it was found that he was suffering from hematomas (blood clots) around his brain. The misdiagnosis resulted in quadriplegia, a condition that could have been prevented with accurate translation. In 2001, Indiana-based Mead Johnson Nutritionals recalled 4.6 million cans of Nutramigen Baby Formula due to misleading Spanish directions on bilingual labels. Though the problem was caught before any infants died or became ill, the cost of recalling and re-labeling the cans was exorbitant.

Jiri Stejskal
CETRA Language Solutions