Google Translate is still not reliable enough to be used for translation of medical content for people who don’t speak English, according to a new study published recently, especially with less common languages. The study found that it was only 55% accurate in English to Armenian translation, which is a big problem when it comes to health information, according to The Verge.
“All you need is one mistake that confuses the patient,” says the study author Lisa Diamond, a health inequality researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Federal guidelines state that hospitals and healthcare institutions should provide translators and interpreters for patients who do not speak English. The guidelines are designed to fill a vital need – these patients are at greater risk of medical complications because they may not understand the instructions their doctors give.
In practice, however, many hospitals do not offer interpreters for every patient who needs one – it is expensive, and many healthcare groups struggle with the cost, even if the hospital has staff interpreters or has a subscription to a telephone interpretation service to communicate orally, since they are unlikely to have a way to translate written instructions.
“There is a clear gap in the ability to provide written information to patients,” says study author Breena Taira, assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine at UCLA Health. Tyra says it has become increasingly common for doctors to use Google Translate in the medical community. “You can imagine a bona fide emergency service provider thinking,” They want to provide the patients with instructions in their own language, and the hospital doesn’t have a mechanism to do that.
The new study evaluated 400 emergency exit instructions that Google Translate translated into seven different languages: Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Korean, Armenian, and Farsi. Native speakers read the translations and rate their accuracy. Overall, the translated instructions were over 80 percent accurate.
This is an improvement from 2014, when an analysis found that Google Translate was less than 60 percent accurate for medical information. Google Translate got better in 2016, when it started using a new algorithm – and since then, one 2019 study found that it can be 90 percent accurate in Spanish.
However, the new analysis also found that accuracy varies between languages, such as the 2019 study found that Google Translate was more than 90 percent accurate for Spanish, accuracy rates in Korean and Chinese ranged from 80 to 90 percent. There was a significant drop in Persian, which was precisely 67 percent and Armenian that was precisely 55 percent.
In one example, Google Translate converted the phrase “you can dispense the anti-ibuprofen as needed” into Armenian as “you can use an anti-tank missile as much as you need for the pain,” for example.
The report added that even languages that are usually subtle such as Spanish and Chinese can contain errors in Google Translate that can confuse patients. It says in instructions for a patient taking the blood-thinning drug “Coumadin” Your level of Coumadin is very high today. Do not take more Coumadin until your doctor reviews the results, “translated into Chinese as follows:” Your soy level was too high Today. Do not take soybeans anymore until your doctor reviews the results. “
One of the main problems with relying on machine translation, Diamond says, is that it cannot interpret the context. The program may not recognize that a word is a drug name. For example, she says, “It loses the meaning of what you are trying to say.”
Although machine translation programs may improve to the extent that they can accurately and safely translate medical content, but also doctors must write instructions in English and engage an interpreter who will review these instructions orally with the patient, says Tyra, and health systems must provide doctors with access to professional translation services.