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Fatal Mistakes

November 7, 2008 2 Comments »

I always think about a professor from University who would insist– and rightly so– that it was imperative for us to check and recheck that we had correctly translated all the different figures correctly: prices, amounts, measurements, dates, etc. An incorrect sum or total in a contract, for example, could lead to a serious problem and even legal action. The wrong measurements on blueprints could make a building crumble or a bridge collapse… But an incorrect dosage on a medical prescription –stressed the professor– could be fatal. “Imagine that a patient is supposed to take one pill every four hours and is given four pills every hour.” And we would laugh at his example…
But the truth is– it’s not funny at all. A translation error in the instructions for implanting a knee prosthesis led to problems for 47 patients who underwent the surgical procedure in 2006-2007 in a hospital in Berlin. Apparently, the doctors implanted the prosthesis without first applying the necessary adhesive because “non-alterable [prosthesis] that requires adhesive” was translated as “prosthesis that does not require adhesive.”
In March of 2007, a similar error caused four deaths (and various complications in another nineteen patients) in a hospital in France. It appears that the patients suffered overexposure to X rays because the instructions for using the medical software were incorrectly translated.
Being in a hurry to finish the job and make the deadline is no excuse. Knowing that someone, perhaps an expert on the subject or a proofer, will go over it after the editor does not make it ok. Medical negligence can cause serious injury, and negligence on our part can do the same.

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2 Responses to “Fatal Mistakes”

  • Punchis
    Commented on November 9, 2008 at 1:18 am

    Mr justinb, as usual, nice article, now; I have a few questions for you, just because I’m curious: in a case like the prosthesis one, how guilty is the translator? Does he have to know everything, everytime? Is there any law that a patient can use against him? Who’s actually guilty in that case? The doctors that maybe didn’t use common sense during the procedure? Or the translator that was not a specialist in medical translations?

  • Punchis
    Commented on November 8, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Mr justinb, as usual, nice article, now; I have a few questions for you, just because I’m curious: in a case like the prosthesis one, how guilty is the translator? Does he have to know everything, everytime? Is there any law that a patient can use against him? Who’s actually guilty in that case? The doctors that maybe didn’t use common sense during the procedure? Or the translator that was not a specialist in medical translations?