26 Dec Translating scanned doctors’ handwritten documents
It is traditionally said that doctors have bad handwriting. The fact is that most of the patients have difficulties understanding their doctors’ handwritten documents. But… why does this happen? And most importantly: what do translators do to translate such documents?
The myth of doctors’ bad handwriting
First of all, we want to explain you why doctors “have bad handwriting”. There are a few explanations to this:
Speed of writing
One of the reasons is that doctors need to write a lot during the day, not only because of the amount of patients, but also because everything must be documented. That means that they might get tired or that they need to write quickly in order to achieve everything. The good news is that more and more medical documents are now computerized and electronic, reducing the amount of doctor’s handwriting.
But there is more. Doctors tend as well to write prescriptions in a short way, which might not be understood by a current patient, even if the handwriting was extremely clear or typed. But it does not mean that those prescriptions could not be understood by other doctors. Doctors’ handwrittten documents usually include drug names with which patients are unfamiliar, Latin terms and specific abbreviations concerning dispensation of drugs.
Here is an example to make it clearer for you. These are typical abbreviations of doctors’ handwritten documents:
- Drug X
- #20 (twenty)
- Sig: 1 tid
This means that 20 units of the drug are to be dispensed, with one being taken by the patient 3 times a day (TID is an abbreviation of the Latin expression “ter in die”, meaning “three times a day”). Not so obvious. Is it? And there is not even a complicated drug name in the example. However, medical translators are well aware of this.
Translating doctors’ handwritten documents
Here comes the tricky part of the translation: what happens if you are a medical translator and the documents that are due for translation reach you in a non-optimal condition? For example: a bad scan of a handwritten document or an unreadable text.
The need of an agreement
It is important to resolve these issues with an agreement. The main reason is that quality and cost of the translation may vary depending on the source. Therefore, in case medical translators need to deal with difficult source material, or bad scan documents, quality and cost requirements should be negotiated. The parties must specify the way to deal with it.
The most effective thing to do is providing a medical translators with as many references as possible. The possibility to have access to the original is especially interesting in order to provide good results. Another tip could be to provide empty forms along with the filled ones, if applicable. Or to provide translation memories, if any.
Medical translation requires a process of document recreation. This process can be operated directly by the medical translator into an electronic document.
In case you get PDF documents, the first step is to convert them into DOC. In case you get documents in image formats, usually some kind of OCR processing is necessary in order to recover any editable text. This is the process you need before using any CAT tool.
Here it is important to take into account that handwritten documents are not usually recognized by optical character recognition technology.
After the documents are translated, sometimes, formatting must also be completed. Layouts are important. For example: when the translated documents must be submitted to health authorities.
Documents for medical translation
The types of documents that can be subject to medical translation can be quite different. I. e.: doctors’ handwritten documents or notes, which we are specifically referring to in this article. But also clinical documents, questionnaires, certificates, pathology reports, patient health documents or hospital forms, among others.
Taking into account these previous considerations, the challenges of translating scanned doctors’ handwritten documents are clear. Even if a medical translator is a skilled professional and is used to understand the type of expressions normally used by Physicians and Pharmacists.