Timely translation in assistance

ITIJ 213, Assistance and Repatriations Review, October 2018
Share/Save

Femke van Iperen assesses the need for timely and accurate language and translation services in the global assistance industry

Whether assessing medical documents or verbally communicating with other personnel working on a case, when dealing with people in other parts of the world who speak different languages, assistance companies need translation services that are accurate and swift in order to effectively carry out their day-to-day business. 

Following a recent bus crash in Buenos Aires that involved mass casualties, International SOS medical staff had to evacuate a number of foreign students and teachers – some who had walked away with mild trauma, and others who had lost their lives. On other recent occasions, they had to get a 28-week-pregnant woman to safety from a remote area in South Sudan; while over in Haiti a complex and fast security evacuation needed to be completed. These are just a few examples of testing day-to-day scenarios faced by the assistance sector; scenarios that rely on effective translation and language services for a successful outcome. So, how do assistance companies working on a global scale ensure they have the right people at hand to be able to respond rapidly to cases in any part of the world at any given time?
 
Phone a friend
At times, an assistance company may need instant support with a live interpretation. Or it may need a translation service for more routine responsibilities such as the preparation of pre-travel advice, patient medical appointments, reports, records, insurance documentation, logistical arrangements or financial exchanges. Whether acute or more routine, in any of these circumstances there are a variety of services that can be called upon, ranging from in-house translators to external partner support and assistance apps.
For example, for its translation requirements, International SOS makes use of a pool of native speakers from assistance centres in 26 regions around the world, who together speak 99 languages. On rarer occasions, the company can make use of a global assistance network of over 80,000 medical, security and aviation providers. In addition, teams have access to a real-time ‘language line’. 
using standard outsourced translation services could be unsafe to meet these specialised needs
When US-based company Seven Corners needs support with translating medical records, foreign medical bills, policy documents, marketing materials, or with real-time interpretation during client phone calls, it makes use of its multilingual staff in-house. In the event that a particular language is not supported, the company also works with outside vendors it knows and trusts.
An assistance company needing external support may turn to a company such as Lexxika, an expert translation service. Lexxika explained to ITIJ that it specialises in the assistance sector and offers services in the areas of medical and accident reports, medical test results, and fit-to-fly certificates, making it a unique service. 
Other companies that are used by the assistance sector may be more general but still focused on medical and financial translation. The services of Language Buró, for example, which works with financial clients as well as clinical research organisations and pharmaceuticals, are requested by the medical industry for the translation of independent medical exams, doctor and patient notes, as well as medical journals and patient reports.
 
The need for speed
In the assistance sector, the need for speed on the one hand and accuracy on the other can pose a challenge. There are also time differences, complex medical or financial material, and specialist terminology to deal with. In addition, pointed out Professor Robert Quigley MD, SVP Regional Medical Director at International SOS in the US, routine assistance situations that warrant translation are far from theoretical and vary day by day.
Explaining how time is of the essence, Professor Quigley said: “By the nature of the work we do and working in a global environment with sensitive medical or security cases, most exchanges necessitate rapid communication, and therefore, rapid translation. We must be prepared to facilitate key communications, between local and our medical and security personnel 24/7/365.”
When, for example, a translation of medical reports and fit-to-fly confirmation is requested during an emergency medical evacuation, fast-tracked translation is needed, because ‘the information contained in these documents is a critical component in our approving and arranging transport of a sick or injured member’, said Kellee Hinshaw, Operations Analyst at Seven Corners. In the event of of a client being hospitalised abroad in a non-English speaking medical facility, “having immediate access to a live interpreter allows us to assess the situation in real time, and allows both parties to communicate expectations and provide clarification on any questions without unnecessary delay,” she added. This is extremely important, she said, as delayed responses to those questions or requirements could directly impact a patient’s course of treatment in various ways. “A hospital may be refusing to proceed with a surgery until eligibility is [translated and] verified, or the patient is required to pay a large sum out-of-pocket, because a Guarantee of Payment cannot be issued until all supporting documents are [translated and] received,” she said. 
In a remote location, a lack of the right or enough paperwork, for example, may mean that insurers may deny financial coverage, as they lack enough justification of procedures or hospital stay, and only by being able to offer real-time translated communication between the assistance company’s own team and the local medical team can it obtain the required information, Professor Quigley said.
Other than tight deadlines, medical and insurance translations depend on meticulousness. “Medical translation is a very particular field that requires a high level of precision and detail,” said CEO of Language Buró, Rodrigo Galindez. In particular, terminology and the potential for translation errors are key issues, said Galindez: “The key challenge is to find translators that are specialised in the industry and have relevant experience.” 
“The global medical lexicon is definitely the biggest challenge,” said Hinshaw, explaining that in the assistance industry, a machine translation will not always suffice and should always be combined with a human editing component. “Certain diagnoses, procedures, and even medical specialities can be referenced in different ways, depending on where services are rendered. The same can be said for insurance terminology. For example, ‘pre-certification’ is a widely used term in the US, but not really elsewhere. It’s commonly interpreted as ‘pre-approval’ in other countries, which it is not, by definition,” she said.
“The types of communications can be highly technical and, therefore, using standard outsourced translation services could be unsafe to meet these specialised needs,” agreed Professor Quigley. 
 
Calling in the experts
To help speed up the process of translation and reduce translation errors, it can pay to partner with a specialist. The expert partner Seven Corners choses, for example, is ‘a full-service company, not an agency that passes requests to freelancers, with projects that are proofed by a second linguist, at minimum’, said Hinshaw, who explained that they must be able to offer a 24/7 service, real-time interpretation, and a clear price structure. This, she argued, all helps to ensure a ‘more streamlined terminology between insurers and assistance providers and hospitals’.
For Tom Bool, CEO of Lexxika, a translation service should be able to offer prompt services that ‘represent the key to accelerating case-handling times’, and they should be able to facilitate the different needs of insured parties waiting for treatment and claims handlers desperate to understand the results of a toxicology report. “The assistance industry needs a language support company who is growing from within it and is focused on solving industry problems,” he said, explaining the answers lie in human translation and ‘mimicking the shape and approach of an assistance company’. “By having specialist resources located all around the world, and a good understanding of the time pressures, it’s possible to provide a purely human solution that is always available, follows the sun and still maintains a prioritised approach to speed of delivery.”
It particularly pays to make sure the people doing the translation are subject matter experts themselves. As Professor Quigley told ITIJ: “These experts are familiar with the terminology and have an understanding of the assistance business as a whole and of how its centres operate. Due to our business being relatively complex, engaging a partner that has a grasp on its complexities is crucial to delivery.”
Other than using experts, it also pays to use native speakers, said Hinshaw: “They are more inclined to identify and understand the context, idiomatic nuances in terminology, regional accents, and cultural references and dialects, such as Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish.”
Due to our business being relatively complex, engaging a partner that has a grasp on its complexities is crucial to delivery
Apart from ensuring the most appropriate translation service, there are other things an assistance company can do to ensure perfect translations. For example, there may still be a disadvantage if the original message is not clear or specific, said Hinshaw: “If you need to know if there is any past medical history of a particular condition, or if the insurance policy covers pre-existing conditions, communicate those needs to the linguist. This way, they know to ask those exact questions during the conversation; or look for anything that may allude to that information within the documentation, even if it isn’t explicitly indicated as such.”
On a more practical level, something like multiple translators working independently and simultaneously on different sections of the same document can be valuable, explained Galindez. Sharing a ‘glossary of common terms’ as well as a ‘translation memory’, i.e. a ‘database of previously-translated segments’ and a final review by another translator all work particularly well with the company’s financial clients that require translations to be done fast and ‘for understanding purposes only’. In addition, Galindez considers a ‘back translation’ useful, which he described as the ‘process of bringing a previously-translated text back to its original language without reference to the original source’. 
 
Meeting requirements
When recently a Chinese national passed away in the US, International SOS was able to provide family repatriation support in Mandarin and another Chinese dialect. On another occasion, by having available a Colombian security professional from its Philadelphia security team, the assistance company was able to secure a safe, prompt release of two American businessmen who were held by Colombian police. In today’s world, with the number of people travelling to further and more remote locations growing, such scenarios are typical in the assistance sector, and its need for translation continues to increase in number, urgency and complexity. “There is a multi-layered need for 24/7 communication, both from native speakers and from individuals who themselves are SME in medical, security, aviation and financial disciplines,” said Quigley.
“The assistance industry faces a unique set of problems when it comes to language services," highlighted Bool. "We live in a world where everything is urgent, emergencies are common place, and it is impossible to predict what challenges will arise, and therefore what resources will be required.” 
However, it seems that whatever the translation requirement of an assistance company, with the right translation services, through a balance of speed, accuracy, and a knowledge of the industry and terminology, the desired outcome can be supported. ■