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Translation of healthcare communications in the United States has been done in a very decentralized way. In English, it seems at least that there is some coordination on creating standards in healthcare communications as the industry has somewhat standardized the nomenclature around insurance language. However, when we look at Spanish healthcare terminology in healthcare translations, we find another story.

The development of Spanish Healthcare Terminology in healthcare translations in the United States has been challenged by the following developments:

  • Isolated efforts to translate key healthcare terms have introduced variability in terminology, creating a history of terminology that was never based on any set of standards.
  • Little evidence that the main organizations in healthcare coordinate the development of these Spanish translations over time, causing continued variability in some of even the most basic healthcare terms, program names and insurance terminology.
  • Regional preferences in Spanish tend to show in plans where demographics in a particular State or by a particular translator tends to follow a particular market preference and may not always be universally applicable or even appropriate.

representative image of people saying different thingsAccessibility of information and the format in which it is presented is sporadic, decentralized and not very useful to create consistent translations in a productive way.This hinders healthcare professionals from speaking in one voice amidst the noise of inconsistent terminology. It also hinders translators in healthcare from always being informed about the terminology used without any productivity tools (Translation Memory and Termbases) to guide their knowledge.

Who has noted the issues in Spanish healthcare terminology in healthcare translations?

These issues in inconsistent terminology have not gone unnoticed as evidenced by this article by the National Health Law Program, which suggests that the US Department of Health and Human Services should take the lead into providing a standardized glossary in non-English languages.

But as we found in compiling our own standardized glossary for the healthcare insurance industry, none of the major health organizations we surveyed have either a complete or always accurate account of the Spanish healthcare terminology in healthcare translations. Each organization tends to specialize in certain healthcare terminology. There IS overlap but they each have their own focus i.e. Aflac on supplemental insurance, CMS on Medicaid/Medicare, etc

Our efforts in creating a complete English to Spanish glossary from terms provided by the major organizations in healthcare has been an investment on our part to be consistent in work that we provide in healthcare translations. Our end goal is to ensure comprehension by the end user and to decrease confusion. It is an asset that we share with our translators and with our clients. However, as long as healthcare translation is evolving in a decentralized way, these glossaries will need to be tested against the terms used in the field, in plan documents, by State exchanges, navigators, brokers, and healthcare providers and of course the second language plan participant.

Getting ready for Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment is a time for families to make important decisions on their healthcare and financial outlook for the rest of the year. We already know that terminology in English is vast and can be very confusing. Plan members need to understand how these variables impact their financial decision making and variability can break down the decision process. Attention needs to be brought to consistency of terminology and supplementing this with additional information to understand each concept. Accuracy and consistency will need to be balanced and variability needs to be addressed in Open Enrollment documents to ensure readers that they are comparing apples to apples.

It is important for health plan providers and translation companies to keep track of healthcare terminology and have access to this information as we hopefully take out the unnecessary variability over time and create a better health experience for the Hispanic population.

Our Final Recommendations for Spanish healthcare terminology in healthcare translations

It’s not clear whether we will ever be able to fully standardize healthcare communications in Spanish. Here are some of our final recommendations to make healthcare terminology more accessible and consistent:

  • For any organization that publishes a glossary, we also recommend that you put it online in a downloadable format in which it can be accessed and used. A PDF is not a usable format to be able to use in technology (Translation service providers and translators can then convert this to a glossary to be used in Translation Memory). Consider Excel, a Word table, etc.
  • Encourage health plans and others to use Language Service Providers or professional translators in healthcare that are proficient in Translation Memory and have access to these glossaries and published translations that can be utilized. See the CMS Toolkit for using culturally and appropriate translation.
  • There needs to be an organization that will reach out and collaborate with others to help standardize the terminology. We volunteer to be part of that organization.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – create the awareness of the importance of standardized translations and terminology once established.

feedback image Have you found this helpful or have questions to ask or insight to share? Are you a translator specializing in Spanish healthcare terminology in healthcare translations?  Are you a health plan that has received feedback from your Spanish speaking consumers about the terminology used in your translations? Are you a reviewer for a company that does Spanish translation?

We’d love your feedback.

Contact us or leave a comment below

You can also access this 4-part series as a complete whitepaper here.

Read our full study here. 

Updated September 2016:  A new Consumer Segment Study by United Healthcare show that few people have a basic understanding of English terminology!