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A translation of a video about HIV and AIDS into SpanishThe answer to that question may seem like a simple one, but whether you’re new to healthcare translation or have been involved in this industry for a while, answering that question can take us in myriad directions. Our aim here is to provide a general overview for what gets translated, and how.

What gets translated in healthcare translation services?

In the United States, the primary audience for healthcare translations are patients with limited English proficiency (LEP). So, we primarily translate patient education materials as well as materials that are legally mandated such as health plan materials. These can range from generalized information about sexual health to information about specific illnesses and drugs as well as information on a various health plan or the translation of a value formulary. Healthcare translation services incorporate various mediums, no matter the theme or focus.

Print pieces

A Spanish flyer from the CDC about vaccinesPrint pieces like brochures, flyers, and inserts remain not only a popular but sometimes a mandated resource. Medication inserts typically require a very straightforward style, while pharmaceutical print ads require both technical expertise and creativity. Healthcare translation services can include not just the translation of the copy, but also multilingual typesetting of the layout.


Presentations, typically given by a healthcare provider or community educator, can also be included in healthcare translation services. Just like with print pieces, the subject matter of educational presentations runs the gamut, but the idea is the same: make sure people are aware of ways they can protect, manage, and improve their health. There are generally two elements that need to be translated for presentations: a visual element, such as a Power Point, and a script or talking points for the presenter.


A video can be a useful alternative or complement to a live presentation. Whether it goes on YouTube, Instagram reels, or is played for a live audience, translating a video can help it reach a significantly wider audience. There are a few ways to tackle video translations, and the best way for each video will depend on several factors. Subtitles are the quickest and least expensive way to translate a video, but if the video also has a lot of on-screen text, it can be challenging for viewers to engage with all the information being presented. If you have an off-screen narrator, recording a new voiceover in the target language is typically pretty straightforward, though you’ll need to account for timing.

When a language is expansive compared to English (such as French, Spanish, or German) and time constraints won’t allow for the video to be any longer, we go back to the source language copywriter and ask them to edit down the source copy. When subtitling a video, it’s assumed that the voiceover will not be altered. So, it’s common practice for subtitles to be a more concise paraphrase of the original audio. The translator has little choice here, as the subtitle must be readable in the amount of time that it appears on-screen. When an entirely new voiceover will be recorded based on a translated script, however, we want the original copywriter, not the translator, to determine which copy, ideas, descriptions, and concepts are the highest priority and must be included in the translated voiceover.


The WPML logo: The WordPress Multilingual PluginA post about healthcare translation services in the 21st century wouldn’t be complete without a mention of websites. We always encourage our clients who have WordPress sites to get and use the WPML plugin. This plugin allows for the export of web pages to a translatable format compatible with translation tools and software (more on that soon). Then the translated pages can be uploaded on the back end and voilà – you have a translated website without the time spent and potential for error of cutting and pasting. With that being said, we understand that some clients have to work within the confines of certain file formats due to regulatory processes. We’ve translated plenty of websites using copy docs. That can still get us to the desired final product, we just have to incorporate certain additional processes to ensure that nothing gets left out.

How does it get translated?

What exactly are you getting when you invest in healthcare translation services? Most people have some awareness that Google Translate just won’t cut it when it comes to their translation needs. But why?

By professionals, above all

The first step, and it is crucial, is team selection. We work only with professional translators, many of whom have a degree or certificate in translation. We are also intentional about assigning translators to projects based on their education and training outside of translation. Most translation study programs offer specializations, so students can choose to focus on vocabulary, writing and research techniques for fields such as medicine, law, or marketing. Some professional translators have transitioned from a previous career that gives them a high level of familiarity with a certain subject matter. HR translations, especially health plan communications, also require a certain level of background knowledge in both the source and target markets. Our Spanish teams also have plain language and health literacy expertise to help with common terminology used by patients and in readability testing.

With the right tools

A screenshot of an English/Spanish termbase interface; a tool used in healthcare translation servicesWe mentioned translation tools and software earlier. This primarily includes a computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool, a Translation Memory (TM), and a termbase (glossary). A CAT tool is different than machine translation, such as Google Translate. CAT tools detect repetitive text, allow for customizable QA checks, and can create a TM (among other benefits). This TM is a sort of “database” that stores every translated segment that has ever been done in the CAT tool. These can be organized by client or by subject matter (or both), and you can always identify which segments came from which projects. On a more granular level is a termbase, which stores preferred terminology. When a CAT tool user activates a termbase, the software will detect when the term appears in the source copy and prompt the translator to use the approved translation for the term. And even if the translator somehow misses the prompt or chooses to use a different translation, an automated QA check will flag the use of a non-approved translation.

Regulatory requirements

A diagram of back translation: a sentence is translated from English into German, then the German sentence is translated into EnglishFinally, we do back translation for healthcare clients who are subject to promotional review committee (PRC) approval or other regulatory requirements. This is when the translation of the original source copy is treated as a “new” source document and translated back into the original source language. We’ve written about back translation before, so we’d encourage you to read that post if you want to learn more! Here we’ll just summarize that in a regulated field such as healthcare, back translation is typically obligatory because the approving committee does not speak the target language and needs to know what the translation says. When this is the case, we make sure to assign a back translator with the same professional qualifications (including requisite expertise in the subject matter) as the “forward” translator.


Providing a certificate of translation accuracy (COT) is an important healthcare translation service for a few reasons:

Legal Compliance: In the healthcare industry, accuracy and precision are critical as mistranslations can have severe consequences for patients and healthcare providers. A COT serves as a legal document stating that the translation has been completed with due diligence and to the best of the translator’s knowledge, ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.

Credibility and Trust: A COT adds credibility to the translated documents and the translation service provider. It assures clients that the translation has been performed by a qualified professional who stands by the accuracy of their work. This trust is crucial, especially when dealing with sensitive medical information.

Medical Research and Studies: In the context of medical research, academic papers, and clinical trials, accurate translations are essential for sharing knowledge and collaborating internationally. A COT is valuable when submitting research findings to reputable journals and institutions.

Professional Standards: Providing a COT aligns with industry best practices and professional standards in the translation field. It demonstrates that the translation has been completed in accordance with established guidelines, quality assurance processes, and ethical principles.

What about…?

If you’ve gotten this far you may be thinking “they didn’t even mention translators who attend doctor’s appointments or who work in hospitals!” That’s because that is healthcare interpretation. Translation involves working with written materials, while interpretation means facilitating live oral communication. We’ve written about healthcare interpretation elsewhere if you want to learn more.

Another type of healthcare “translation” that doesn’t get enough attention is Braille transcription. Fortunately, there are many types of assistive technology such as screen readers that can make digital materials more accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision. Braille continues to be an important medium to ensure that people with blindness or low vision can maintain their independence and privacy.

If you’re new to healthcare translation services or have been experiencing some pain points with your current provider, we’d love the opportunity to connect with you and see if we are a good fit!