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Healthcare Machine Translation Needs Post-Editing

Healthcare Machine Translation Needs Post-Editing - GPI Blog

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Despite vast improvements in some aspects of translations, many professionals across private and public sectors tend to agree that healthcare Machine Translation (MT) cannot fully replace human translation capabilities when it comes to critical medical subjects. This is evident in the recently proposed rule to Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act published by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) drawing the line between human versus machine translations.

To clarify the differences by definition, the rule states:

“We propose to define ‘‘machine translation’’ as automated translations, without the assistance of or review by a qualified human translator, that are text-based and provide instant translations between various languages, sometimes with an option for audio input or output. This is in contrast to human translation, which is context-based and captures the intended meaning of the source. This definition is based on literature addressing the use of machine translation in the clinical setting, which we believe captures the automated translations that are being used in the health care setting.”


During the pandemic, many healthcare patients with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) complained “because they were unable to sign up for Covid-19 vaccines on websites using machine translation or found translated information confusing because of inaccuracies in some translations”.

What’s more concerning is the high level of “inaccuracies when it comes to machine translation in the health care context” as the recent literature review pointed out. In fact, it was revealed that “all studies indicated error rates so high” that machine translation is found to be ‘‘unacceptable for actual deployment in health settings.’’

Therefore, the US Health Department recommends regulating healthcare machine translation output by requiring MT-translated materials to be reviewed by a “qualified human translator”, more importantly when it is “critical to the rights, benefits, or meaningful access of an LEP.”