Cultural Competence in Spanish Translation during the “Health Care Season”

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Being able to translate healthcare-related documents requires not only medical translation expertise, but also the ability to produce a correct cultural adaptation of the content for the target audience.

The so-called “health care season” can be defined as the time of the year in which the demand for medical translations spikes. The need for qualified translators with the ability to translate all kinds of content created by hospitals, clinics, health care providers and state health agencies intensifies. This season usually begins around August and runs through November.

The increased demand for this type of translation is triggered by the Open Enrollment Period in the United States. The documents generated in this area include materials for wide distribution, such as commercial brochures aimed at recruiting new members, plan enrollment renewal reminders, explanations of benefits (EOB), evidences of coverage (EOC), administrative communications on the costs of medical services, and informed consent forms for the provision of services. Since much of this material may be complex in terms of medical terminology and the terms related to the operations of healthcare providers, translators must use clear, concise language that allows the material to be understood by a lay audience, in line with state and federal “plain writing” guidelines related to health care.

On the other hand, since these documents are intended for a Spanish-speaking audience in the U.S., adaptation is often required; some content must be translated and some must remain in English, so that the user can relate it to the local context. This is the case, for example, with the names of certain medicines and the active ingredients contained in those medicines, as well as those of hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, and even the acronyms of certain studies, plans or programs that the patient must be able to request in English.

For these reasons, cultural sensitivity is a core competency for health care translators. Communicating the message clearly and effectively will allow patients, clients, or members to make proper use of the health care services available to them.

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