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The costs of patient education healthcare translation may seem high, but the costs of neglecting to provide this resource are likely to be even higher. And arguably more importantly, the benefits of patient education healthcare translation can easily outweigh the costs, as we’ll explore further. Patient education healthcare translation is the process of translating medical information, materials, and resources into different languages to provide patients with essential healthcare information in their native language. It aims to improve patient understanding, engagement, and empowerment in managing their health conditions and treatment plans.

CVS Caremark brochure showing patient education healthcare translationYou may be familiar with US legislation that requires insurance companies and organizations receiving federal funds to provide disclosures, notices, and other means of access to healthcare in languages other than English (and we examine that legislation more in-depth in a prior post). And you may think that if this legislation doesn’t apply to you, then you don’t stand to gain from providing patient education healthcare translation. But did you know that according to the National Standard for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services [CLAS] in Health and Healthcare: A Blueprint for Advancing and Sustaining CLAS Policy and Practice, published by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, “[c]ulturally and linguistically appropriate services are increasingly recognized as [both] effective in improving the quality of care and services [and] a key strategy to eliminating disparities in health and health care” (8; 16)? If you are involved in patient care but aren’t legally required to provide patient education healthcare translation, you can still participate in this improvement of care and help eliminate healthcare disparities! Read on to learn more about the who, why, when and how of providing patient education healthcare translation as well as international pharmaceutical marketing translation.

Who Needs Patient Education Healthcare Translation?

According to data from the US Census Bureau’s 2009 – 2013 American Community Survey, over 20% of US residents speak a language other than English at home, and 8.6% report that they speak English less than “very well.” Given the fact that, according to the National Library of Medicine, almost 90% of adults – that’s adults generally, not just adults with limited English proficiency – have difficulty using the health information they encounter in various settings, it can only follow that those with limited English proficiency would have even greater difficulties utilizing English-only health information to its highest potential, let alone utilizing it at all.  We write further on the topic of the crucial role of health literacy assessment and translation.

Why Provide Patient Education Healthcare Translation?

Earlier we made the point that providing patient education healthcare translation can improve quality of care and services and help eliminate disparities in health and healthcare. Equally compelling is the potential for what can happen if you do not provide this resource, which the National Standard for CLAS in Healthcare: A Blueprint identifies as an increase in the likelihood of miscommunication and misunderstanding, which can lead to errors. In a day-to-day context, outside of healthcare, linguistic misunderstandings can range from comical to offensive to life-threatening. Given that in healthcare the potential for the latter is all too possible (allergies, dosages, diabetes management, and the list goes on), it doesn’t make sense not to ensure that patients are fully informed about their conditions, treatment options, etc. And when a patient does not have a confident command of English, being fully informed means having patient information in their first language.

A man with a blackboard that says "Hazte la prueba", an example of patient education healthcare translation from English into SpanishFurthermore, in a study done by CSA Research, 60% of consumers surveyed in 10 non-English-speaking countries “rarely or never buy” from websites presented only in English. 30% of respondents never buy from English-only sites, and 56% of those surveyed say that they “either spend more time on sites in their own language… or boycott English-language URLs altogether” (emphasis my own). The same study showed that 66.7% of respondents with minimal to no English proficiency classified in-language information about food, personal care (including pharmaceutical products) and household items as important or very important when purchasing these things.

This can mean different things for different sectors. If you are a healthcare provider giving information leaflets, brochures or other materials free of charge to patients, the purchasing angle obviously does not apply here. However, buy-in is still a factor, which leads us back to the point made above regarding the difficulties that people with limited English proficiency encounter when provided with healthcare materials in English only. Patients who are provided with information that they struggle to understand can react in a variety of ways: they may not feel confident to implement the information they have received, they may be actively afraid of making a mistake based on a misinterpretation, they may be apathetic to information they don’t understand, or they may become frustrated to the point that they give up on making sense of what they are reading, let alone putting it into practice.

The National Standard for CLAS in Healthcare: A Blueprint addresses this point as well, from the other side of the coin: “[b]y implementing culturally and linguistically appropriate services… an organization can develop a positive reputation in the service area and therefore expand its market share” (19). This means that the combined outcome of providing patient education healthcare translation is serving more patients, better. A win-win! Of course if you are marketing a healthcare product to a community whose first language may not be English, then the financial implications of the CSA Research study are obvious: you will grow your customer base by providing information in your target market’s primary language.

If you’ve decided that patient information healthcare translation is a must for your organization, it is equally important to determine when and how to best go about providing it.

When to Have Patient Education Healthcare Translation Done

As we explored in our last post about the pain points in the translation cycle, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The same can be said for providing patient education healthcare translation. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights points out that language assistance “should be provided at a time and place that avoid the effective denial of the service, benefit or right at issue or the imposition of an undue burden on, or delay in, important rights, benefits or services” (75). This means being prepared with translated materials rather than seeking them out in response to a crisis. Get ahead of any issues that may arise from not having these materials available to give patients and customers and have translations done sooner rather than later.  If you are a healthcare marketing agency, you want to be proactive with your clients and design with that in mind as well and suggest it to your clients to do international pharmaceutical marketing translation.

How to Provide Relevant Patient Education Healthcare Translation

Here’s what you shouldn’t do: have family members or friends provide these translations. The National Standard for CLAS in Healthcare: A Blueprint points out that “[u]ntrained family, friends, minors and staff often do not possess the necessary skills to provide meaningful language services” (87) and highlights that matters such as confidentiality and objectivity can suffer when patients’ family or friends serve as their medical translators and interpreters. The Blueprint adds that having children translate or interpret for their parents or grandparents can place tension on the relationship as well as stress and emotional strain on the child.

The mention of “untrained staff” in the first point is interesting as well. It may seem like a given that a bilingual staff member would be equipped to serve as a translator or interpreter, but this may not necessarily be true for a number of reasons. The first is that the materials that need translating are not within their area of expertise. Another is that they don’t have the specialized knowledge and skills that language service providers (LSPs) have learned in a dedicated academic or professional program or through years of experience. And then there is the danger that adding the responsibility of translating or interpreting to an employee’s current duties and responsibilities can stretch them too thin and you may end up with quality loss on both sides.

A man with a poster that says "Carga viral --> Indetectable" as an example of patient education healthcare translation from English into SpanishThe answer, then, is to contract an LSP whose sole priority is to provide you with well-researched and accurate translations that fit your, and your clients’, needs. You want to be sure that your LSP has the knowledge and experience necessary to provide patient education healthcare translation that will be useful and effective. Language Solutions, Inc. has been working with dedicated translators in healthcare for years, and healthcare translations (between languages as well as plain language writing in English) are one of our specialties. We’d love to hear from you about how we can help you provide better care to more patients by providing patient education healthcare translation!

Who, Revisited

Depending on your industry and role, you may already know exactly how you need to move forward – namely, who your stakeholders are and in what languages you need patient education healthcare translation done. However, you may not be to this point yet. You can get there with a Language Needs Assessment. There is no one way to go about this, but we’ll outline some ideas to help you get started.

The first is accessing data that has already been published, such as the MLA Language Map. This resource, by its own description, “uses aggregated data from the 2006 – 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) to display the locations and numbers of speakers of twelve languages commonly spoken in the United States.” Be aware though, that Spanish is not included on this map. You can also always go directly to the source of the MLA Language Map, the American Community Survey, to find statistics on language use by county.MLA Language Map logo

Or, you may prefer to seek more personalized data for your community or customer base. The National Standard for CLAS in Healthcare: A Blueprint encourages “processes that allow for self-identification and avoid the use of observational/visual assessment methods” but also warns that “many individuals may be hesitant to provide personal information… due to concerns about privacy or fear of negative reprisals” (109, 113). If you would still like to be able to survey your clients but are concerned about this hesitation to provide identifying information, you can always de-identify it! The Blueprint suggests using a code for personal information such as language spoken at home and level of English proficiency so that these answers can be aggregated based on their identifying code without being linked to any one person.

Providing patient education healthcare translation may seem complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. And for all the reasons we’ve just covered, we’re confident that you’ll find the benefits far outweigh the costs! Once you’ve determined which language(s) you’d like to be able to provide to your patients or customers, drop us a line – we work with over 40, from Afrikaans to Vietnamese, Burmese to Swahili.


  1. DePalma DA, Sargent BB, Beninatto, RS. Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: Why Language Matters on Global Websites. September 2006. Common Sense Advisory [CSA Research]. Available at: https://csa-research.com/More/Media/Press-Releases/ArticleID/31/Survey-of-3-000-Online-Shoppers-Across-10-Countries-Finds-that-60-Rarely-or-Never-Buy-from-English-only-Websites
  2. Modern Language Association. MLA Language Map. 2019. Available at: https://www.mla.org/Resources/Research/MLA-Language-Map?gclid=CjwKCAiAluLvBRASEiwAAbX3GYncdmHTQUA5zb0qxCdSifzjgvhsNo9XL5d9eX4wG_UBm0tLHalcYBoCWlwQAvD_BwE
  3. Office of Minority Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care: A Blueprint for Advancing and Sustaining CLAS Policy and Practice. April 2013. Available at: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/ohpp/clasact/documents/clasact/general/EnhancedCLASStandardsBlueprint.pdf