Word for Word and More: Terminology Management for the Pharmaceutical Industry

Miloš Matović 1 year ago 8 min read

In literally every survey that we have ever conducted among our clients from the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries, accurate terminology has always been singled out as the primary concern in translation for these sectors. In this article, we will take a closer look at the reasons for this and how the translation technologies can help us address this issue and ensure accuracy of terminology.

The Two Levels of Correctness

Before we delve deeper into the procedures, it should be noted that the choice of accurate and appropriate terminology in the life sciences sector will depend upon the target audiences and purpose of the materials.

If the content is targeted at the patients/end users who are not necessarily familiar with the expert terminology, we may want to use the terms that such audiences will understand.

These are the so-called patient-facing materials and may include a wide range of content from informed consent forms and various patient surveys to marketing materials and user interfaces of medical devices.

Another group of content is targeted at the industry professionals and/or regulators and the language of these materials needs to feature the industry-accepted terms, consistent with the scientific and legal conventions of the target market. These materials also include a wide range of materials, from clinical trial protocols to SmPCs.

The Heritage, the Modern Times and the Speed

The largest part of the medical/pharmaceutical vocabulary in the European languages originates from Latin, Greek and Arabic, making it an international, almost universal lexical stock, and while traditionally it took little more than adapting a Latin/Greek/Arabic phrase in accordance with the target language orthography to render a usable translation, with English having become the lingua franca and the language of much of the contemporary technological and scientific development, this situation looks somewhat different.

Most of the terms describing modern medical procedures, diagnostics, equipment and devices are coined in English every day, combining the traditional terminology with new technologies, at a much faster pace than these terms are adopted in other, comparatively smaller languages.

This situation is frequently resolved by the healthcare professionals simply using the English terms with little to no adaptation out of necessity and this is one of those case when terminology management, as one of the standard procedures in the language industry, truly acts as an auxiliary discipline to the life sciences.

What is terminology management?

Terminology management is a multistage process of identifying, translating, storing and maintaining searchable multilingual terminology bases for use on translation/localization projects.

For best possible results, terminology bases should be developed in collaboration with the client/client’s subject matter experts as the best practices show that client’s input regarding the explanation of new technologies and the desired solutions before/at the early stages of the project can speed up the process dramatically and generate results of higher quality.

Although they are also developed and used in conjunction with productivity software (CAT tools), unlike translation memories that store translated segments (sentences or paragraphs) in a single language pair, terminology bases store only translations of specific terms and provide a quick and reliable reference to the translators and reviewers working on the project.

Terminology bases can be described as customized advanced dictionaries and some of their benefits include:

  • Terminology bases are multilingual (they can contain translations for specific terms in many languages);
  • Terminology bases can contain specific notes (clarifying the context, e.g. which translation should be used for the patient-facing materials);
  • Terminology bases can contain images/definitions (very useful for providing additional context);
  • Prohibited terms / terms that must remain in the source languages (DNT terms) can be defined.
  • Terminology bases are stored and can be reused on future projects, ensuring lexical and stylistic consistency.

Benefits of terminology bases

Terminology bases are one of the building blocks of any successful/lean translation process.

A result of joint effort of the linguists, client’s subject matter experts and the experts working on the technical preparation and execution of translation projects, terminology bases with their versatile functions ensure a faster and leaner translation process with less editing in the quality assurance stages.

Side effects

While terminology bases are an excellent tool, they are not a substitute for a magic wand that will make any bad translation go away.

Unclear/missing context of the desired terms may actually generate very bad results (just consider the entirely different meanings of simple words such as thread or probe in different medical and pharmaceutical applications and the issues that might arise from these differences).

Terminology bases usually do not include different grammar case forms, often leading to reporting false errors in the quality assurance phase.

However, when done right and in the hands of an experienced and focused linguist team, terminology bases ensure accuracy, appropriateness and fluency of the translated/localized materials that fulfill their ultimate purpose of bringing the medicinal and pharmaceutical products to the global markets.

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