When global life sciences organizations are ready to find an agency to provide medical translation services, there are some obvious questions to ask. Clearly, you want to make sure your document translations are accurate, delivered on deadline, and completed within your budget.

However, there are a number of other, less obvious questions you may not think to ask. And overlooking these hidden factors can have disastrous consequences affecting not only your current project, but also the long-term health of your organization. After all, one inaccurate statement or lackluster piece of communication and your organization’s reputation and liability could be on the line.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to cover your bases when using medical translation services. The first of which is to consider what advice translation industry pros have to offer about finding the right agency. So, let’s talk insider secrets.

To find a high-quality, reputable medical translation agency, here are the top things you need to know:

1. Know where the agency is physically located.

Because the translation industry in the U.S. is completely unregulated, there are thousands of agencies where the “headquarters” is actually someone’s residence. There’s nothing illegal about this and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with it. However, a life sciences organization needing to comply with certain corporate standards and expectations may reasonably have some reservations about choosing a language partner like this.

And since online and freelance businesses are so common these days, you may not even think to ask. So if you’re considering using a virtual LSP and before you sign anything, make sure to ask some follow up questions, including:

  • Is data being stored on company servers? If the owner runs the company from her primary residence, where are the company servers? ARE there in fact servers (i.e., is there a professional secure network for storing your data?) or is everything being outsourced somewhere else? You want to be assured that your data is being securely stored and backed up frequently.
  • What is their Internet speed and reliability? There’s a big difference between an individual relying on a cable provider at home and an agency operating in a Class A corporate office park setting with professionally-established IT standards, server closets, data redundancy, automatic back-ups, etc. What will happen if your LSP loses Internet service at home? Well, if it goes down on a critical delivery day and you have a medical device company in Silicon Valley on standby awaiting For Use translations in 10 languages with deadlines for 10 separate stakeholders, the consequences are dire.
  • Do they have commercial insurance? Even if your LSP can show you the insurance policy, they may be disguising that they are operating out of a residence. What does this mean? Effectively, there’s no business insurance policy. Of course, this might not impact your bottom line, but you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the risk.

Please don’t misinterpret what we’re saying here. None of this means you need to spend lavishly to get reliable medical translation services. Your language provider need not have ostentatious, top-of-the-line corporate digs to be considered a “legitimate” company. But do take note if certain standards of communication and workplace cohesiveness do not meet with your approval.

2. Know who is doing the actual translating.

In the 1990’s, while there were a few independent consultants working on a contract basis (who came into the office usually only to pick up their paychecks), the majority of linguists and translators worked as employees in-house at a translation agency. Today, the reverse is true. Most translators are independent contractors, who work for agencies as subcontractors, much like a temporary employee working through a staffing agency.

This means you need to make sure your language partner has a solid process in place for vetting translators. Ask if you can speak with your translator or at least, ask to be provided with her educational background and work history.

At DTS Language Services, Inc., we’ve worked hard to create a streamlined process that works. 90% of our translators are vetted, outsourced professional subject matter linguists. In many cases, we have scoured the Earth to find, meet, vet, and establish a trusting relationship with our outsourced translators. We do also have in-house language support. Several of our staff in the Triangle are bi- or tri-lingual.

In addition, be sure to ask about the native language of the translator who will carry out your project. The golden rule in translation is that an English-to-French translator should be a French native speaker. But sometimes, the reverse may be true and work well.

For example, suppose you had a Thai-to-English translation need for a biotechnology patent. It’s unlikely you would be able to find an English native speaker who is both an expert in biotech patents and fluent in Thai. In this case, we’d look for a native Thai speaker who is fluent in English (as a second or third language) to perform these types of medical translation services.

3. Know that there is no legally-recognized “Certified Translator” designation.

In the U.S., anyway, there is no independent licensing agency for translators. Unlike other countries (i.e., many countries in Latin America and Europe), where governments carefully regulate and control the translation industry including who is considered a sworn-translator, in the U.S., anyone who is bilingual can put out their shingle offering medical translation services. Again, since the language industry is unregulated, there are no checks-and-balances on U.S. translators’ qualifications.

Often, clients ask for a “Certified Translation” and we explain while DTS self-certifies it’s own work as part of a legal notarization process, there is no such thing as a regulatory-approved or legally-recognized “Certified Translation.”

This comes as a surprise to many, especially when it seems like you have to fill out a form and swear on someone’s grave just to purchase allergy medication. But the truth is, you are at the mercy of your language partner when it comes to vetting your translator and getting a quality translation. So choose wisely!

4. Know the best translators work really hard to give you the best results.

In addition to looking for a “Certified Translation,” many clients come to us under the mistaken impression that translators simply take a document and run it through some software program or Google algorithm. While machine translation does play a role in our work, it takes a lot more expertise to give you the results you need.

The trick to looking good is to make it look simple. So the hard work that is unavoidable in professional translation is 99% invisible to most, unless you’re an insider. To get medical translations that will satisfy your regulatory agencies and make sense to target users, it takes a caring, committed, and passionate group of individuals. Whether our staff is burning the midnight oil, triple-checking medical reference definitions, or obsessively trying to improve their translations before the deadline, we truly take pride in our work.

5. Know that bragging about cheap per-word rates is a red flag.

Lastly, while it’s important to talk about pricing and your budget with your language service agency, be on the lookout for translators who spout off per-word rates and brag about being cheap early on in the process. True, there are buyers and sellers for every budget and market. But a translation agency that immediately touts their low-low-low pricing should raise a huge red flag.

This is would be equivalent to a candidate for a professional, clinical position showing up at the interview and immediately asking about salary and perks – you just don’t DO that right off the bat, and neither should a translation agency.

If you call or email DTS asking immediately about pricing because you’ve been tasked with “getting translation quotes,” we’ll always try to steer you toward a “discovery meeting.” We want to know exactly what you’re looking for and whether we would be good partners before we talk numbers.

The bottom line is when looking for a language partner to provide medical translation services and safeguard critically important medical documents, it is vital that you find a partner who can provide personalized, dedicated service. You also need an LSP you can trust with a process you understand.

Would you like more insights and insider secrets? Contact DTS today and let’s talk.