Five Tips for Back Translation in Healthcare

Five Tips for Back Translation in Healthcare

Consistent and accurate translation for clinical research, medical devices and pharmaceutical is literally a life-saver.

It helps protect not only your patients and consumers, but also your reputation. Imagine if dosage instructions were inadvertently tripled and the translation error never spotted – the consequences could be deadly.

Back translation adds another layer of valuable protection. The goal is to check the quality and reliability of the initial translation.

Properly executed back translation involves taking the translated content, or “forward translation,” and translating it back into the source language.

The back translation is always executed by a new team of translators (a concept called blind back translation) for the process to be effective.

If you end up with a back translation that retains the precise meaning of the original text, then this validates the accuracy of the forward translation.

Any problems that come to light when the original text and back translation are compared are detailed in a reconciliation report. This process is ideal for preventing any potentially dangerous errors being published.

The benefits of back translation include:

  • Helping a reviewer verify the accuracy of forward translation, especially in the case where the reviewer doesn’t speak the language into which the document has been translated
  • Identifying any missed meanings or concepts
  • Meeting a legal or regulatory requirement requested by medical ethical committees or institutional review boards
  • Enhancing the quality and effectiveness of high-value content, such as clinical trial documents, medical and informed consent forms, surveys, questionnaires, protocols, regulatory content, and Patient Reported Outcomes (PROs)

So, what are the top five things you need to know about back translation?

  1. Understand the need for additional resources, time and budget
    A back translation must be handled by a different team of linguists than the one involved in the forward translation and editing.
    Note that in certain languages, finding qualified back translators can be a challenge, so your language service provider might need more time. The amount of time needed is more than doubled, because the back translation will require as much time as the forward translation, plus time for the back-and-forth between the linguists to reconcile the versions.Likewise, the cost is similar to the cost for forward translation, increasing your translation spend.
  2. Don’t expect a perfect mirror image 
    The back translation will never match the source word-for-word. Capturing the right meaning is what matters, rather than the exact wording. There is no 100% accuracy in forward or back translation. However, back translation will definitely get you close to 100% accuracy when it comes to meaning.So don’t worry about acceptable synonyms such as “permissible” and “allowable”. And if you do find something that appears incorrect, wait for the linguistic team’s feedback before asking for a revision.
  3. Ensure quality of your original source content 
    If your original source text had some clarity or accuracy issues and should have been revised before translation, the back translation may highlight a problem in the original source text. This means it will take more time and effort to reconcile the content. For this reason, avoid viewing the back translation as a replacement for the established QA process, or a compensation for inferior forward translations. Always be sure to provide original content with the right level of quality.
  4. Consider other solutions
    Some life science companies who don’t like the idea of back translation opt to do a double forward translation and then reconcile/merge the two. However, it should be noted that this solution will reveal inconsistencies but not necessarily mistakes.
  5. Apply best practices
    Back translation should be expertly executed through a proven process of planning, analysis, translation, quality check and reconciliation, just as you do when initially translating the document. Quality standards must be integrated and maintained throughout each phase to safeguard the integrity of your message.

Back translation does not remove the need for a thorough QA process during your forward translation. However, with back translation followed by reconciliation, you add two valuable QA steps to your translation process. So you increase time and costs. But with that, you exponentially multiply your chances of closing in on 100% accuracy after the translation, editing and review.