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[illegible text]: The Translation Industry’s Eternal Karma?

So, to change our usual subject a bit, I’ve been asked to dedicate a few lines to my own personal experience dealing with complicated documents.

Working for major medical, insurance and legal companies on a daily basis presents all sorts of different challenges, ranging from a huge variety of uncommon language pairs that require immediate translation, to having to deal with handwritten, almost unreadable hieroglyphs that many clients send over for us to translate, expecting the same quality output at the same price.And believe me, it is dreadful. I’ve seen some shite.

First off, we’ll describe the challenges of handwritten translatable content.

You should know that different trades show different peculiarities when it comes to translating content. Physicians are but just one of them. Most of this nearly undecipherable material I mention so eagerly, in the best of cases, looks like a physician’s handwriting would be drafted being either drunk, under the influence or by someone suffering from Parkinson’s going through a serious case of “the shakes” while writing those prescriptions.

The rest of the time, these documents look like the personal notes of a foreign alien lifeform scribbling some nonsensical message in hopes of reaching their home planet through pen and paper missives. And trust me, although we have very skilled linguists working with us, we don’t keep any outer space reptilians in close confinement who we can force to decode half of the handwritten garbage some clients send to us daily. Or do we?

Often times, not having much sense is the result of poor grammar (e.g., scarce use of punctuation marks, wrong structure of sentences, gender or number disagreement, etc.).

Another challenge in health insurance claims comes from local brands of drugs prescribed. This, coupled with bad handwriting, gives a hard time to translators when looking up for local brand names. Sometimes you cry for more context to help you understand what drug might be prescribed. Certainly, a complete file with printed reports of the claimant’s clinical records can help.

Scribbling with a poor handwriting can not be the only hazard. Those documents are usually scanned in low resolution copies or, even worst today, sent as a snapshot coming forwarded directly from a Smartphone. Low resolution then adds more trouble to an even complicated picture.

Let me add one more hurdle: bilingual content! This may sound local to the U.S., but trust me it happens! A lot of the clinical records I receive every day are from patients (even tourists) coming from Puerto Rico or any Caribbean island where population is usually bilingual. Physicians are bilingual, too, and often used to read scientific papers in English, so that they get quite used to terminology or acronyms used in English. However, the printed template is in Spanish, which misleads you to believe that the handwritten content is in that language as well. You’d be surprised to see that the handwritten content has been filled out in English; and, even worst, that sometimes healthcare professionals jump from English into Spanish and vice versa.

The point is, having to deal with poorly handwritten documents is both expensive and time consuming.

For starters, it’s not even text we can convert into editable format by any digital means right away. And since it’s all very hard to read in the first place, resources working on the translation will have to charge extra hours for the deciphering process alone. Even precising the initial word count at first takes a degree of guessing though estimates that hope to cover the worst case scenarios to make sure all words in the source material have been properly quoted.

So what can you do to help make the process easier? Well I guess we always end up reaching the same conclusion here: embrace technology!

Many countries have their own legislations enforcing mandatory document digitization when it comes to any formal, legal, administrative or even medical documentation. And it seems like a legit way to go.

Electronic documents and records are replacing their paper counterparts in many sectors, but the legal industry seems to be taking a bit longer to adapt. But while electronic documents can provide the security that crucial information is backed up, should something unexpected ever happened to the physical archives, can online legal documents fulfil the same evidentiary requirements and benefits as standard paper copies?

Well, in the past, the law stipulated that lawyers had to keep hard copies of documents for seven years, which explains some of the resistance still lingering against relying purely on electronic files. However, the Evidence Act 1995 stated that in the majority of instances, original documents are no longer required, making copies of documents as good and as admissible as original documents themselves, in most legal proceedings.

In theory, then, it is perfectly feasible for law firms to go completely electronic as well. It’s better for the environment too!

However, whether it would be a lot more practical for them to do so, there are other factors that still pose a conflict to them fully embracing the age of digital documentation.

As the digital economy continues to take hold across the legal industry, and the law changes accordingly, it is possible for law firms to increase the number of records and files they keep electronically, reducing the cost of storage and increasing peace of mind. However, old habits die hard, and while there are legal reasons to maintain at least some hard copies, it’s likely many law firms will continue to retain paper versions across the board.

Keep tuned for the pros and cons of document digitization and how the choices we make today could determine the shape the industry might change into tomorrow.