Discussion & Reflection

Regular Translation apps: a tool you should avoid to medical translation

Apps like Google Translate have only 57% accuracy when using medical terms



According to a study conveyed by the British Medical Journal, popular translation apps, like Google Translate, have only 57% of accuracy when interpreting medical terms to another language. Researchers used the Google Translate App and translated 10 commonly used medical statements into 26 different languages. Then, they sent these translations to native speakers so they would translate it back to English. If the final translations did not make sense or were just incorrect they were considered as wrong. Minor grammatical errors were allowed.

Out of the 26 languages evaluated (8 Western European, 5 Eastern European, 11 Asian, and 2 African), the African language had the lowest score with only 45% of accuracy. Asian languages had 46% of accuracy, followed by Eastern European with 62%. The most accurate translations came from Western European Languages with 74%. Summarizing: 150 translations were correct (or 57,7%) while 110 were wrong (or 42,3%). The least accurate language was Swahili (spoken in Tanzania and Kenya) with only 10% of accuracy. The most accurate was European Portuguese with 90% of accuracy. 

The best solution is to always request a certified professional interpreter. But to put your patient at ease and start a conversation you can always count with Canopy Speak and its 4000+ medical phrases in 15 languages.

To read the full BMJ study, click HERE.
To learn more about Canopy Speak, click HERE


“Intoxicado” : What Can Happen with the Misinterpretation of a Single Word

Spoiler: it has nothing to do with ‘intoxicated’


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Interpretation errors — both big and small — occur when language resource provision is inadequate or when providers have a false sense of their language abilities.

The tragic case of Willie Ramirez regarding the misinterpretation of a single word — “intoxicado” — should serve to fuel action to change the landscape of language services.

Willie Ramirez became quadriplegic as a result of a misdiagnosed intracerebellar hemorrhage that continued to bleed for more than two days as he lay unconscious in the hospital. In the course of the law suit, it was asserted that Willie could have walked out of the hospital had the neurosurgeon been called in earlier. No neuro consult was ordered for two days because the Emergency Room physician and the doctor covering Willie in the ICU erroneously believed that Willie had suffered an intentional drug overdose and had treated him accordingly. The misdiagnosis was based on the physical exam which initially pointed to a drug overdose, and on complete confusion regarding the medical history. At the heart of this confusion, was the Spanish word “intoxicado” which is NOT equivalent to the English word “intoxicated.”
— http://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20081119.000463/full/

Providing innovative language support for healthcare providers will increase quality of care for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP).

Read about the case of Willie Ramirez here.

Note: This post was first published by Canopy in our old blog in 2015, but remains today one of the most accessed content on our domains.

Lessons Learned from a Medical Mission: A Guest Post by Sarah Olofsson

As health care providers, it is our responsibility to provide comfort and act as a source of information for all the patients we see. Language barriers can make this extremely difficult, especially when compounded by the shaky inexperienced hands of young medical students. It is vitally important for all young health professionals to properly educate themselves in the language and necessary skills before endeavoring to care for people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.