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Why Accurate Insurance Translation Matters: Costly Mistakes Examples

insurance translation - Insurance - translations - accurate translation

According to Statista, the US insurance market writes over $1 trillion in premiums annually, making it one of the largest in the world. With almost 66 million people speaking a language other than English at home, accurate insurance translation is critical to ensure that all people have equal access to insurance coverage. Mistranslations in insurance plans can have costly consequences, both for consumers and companies.

In this article, we will explore the importance of accurate insurance translation and why it’s essential to work with professional, vetted language providers that have expertise in insurance translation. 

A happy client shares some Ad Astra translated insurance documents 

The Cost of Poor Translation in Insurance  

In the medical field, mistranslation can have major consequences, as demonstrated by the case of Willie Ramirez. When Willie was brought to the hospital in a comatose state by his family who spoke Spanish, they used the word ‘intoxicado’ to describe his symptoms, indicating that they believed he was experiencing food poisoning.

Unfortunately, a bilingual staff member translated the word to mean intoxicated, leading doctors to treat Willie for a drug overdose. Willie had a cerebral hemorrhage and the delay in receiving proper treatment left him quadriplegic. This single mistranslation resulted in a $71 million dollar malpractice settlement 

In another medical case, Francisco Torres, a California resident who spoke Spanish, entered the hospital for the removal of a diseased kidney. However, due to a language barrier and the absence of interpretation services, Francisco signed a consent form indicating the removal of his healthy kidney instead of the diseased one.

As a result, the hospital mistakenly removed both of Francisco’s kidneys, leaving him with none. The Health Department cited the hospital for errors leading up to the surgery, including failure to follow safety protocol and communicate accurately with the Spanish-speaking patient. 

An excited couple review their Ad Astra translated auto insurance policy

Another medical case involved Teresa Tarry, a British expat residing in Spain, who underwent an unnecessary double mastectomy due to an error in translation. The error occurred when doctors believed that Teresa’s family history included breast cancer, based on a mistranslated medical entry in her records.

Despite Teresa’s attempts to communicate that she did not have a family history that included cancer, the language barrier and limited language proficiency of the doctors resulted in the unnecessary removal of her breasts and a subsequent lawsuit. 

Even small errors in translation can have major consequences, as demonstrated by a case in Germany where an error in translation resulted in the failure of 47 knee replacement surgeries. The original language used on the label of the prosthesis package indicated that the femoral component was “non-modular cemented,” which was incorrectly translated as “non-cemented” or “without cement” (Fakler et al. 2007: 1). As a result, 47 people underwent the painful procedure twice, which took months of recovery. 

Finally, the Tran Family case highlights the dangers of relying on untrained interpreters or family members to convey important medical information. A nine-year-old girl in California arrived at a hospital with what seemed to be a serious case of the stomach flu, but her parents only spoke Vietnamese. Instead of providing an interpreter, the hospital relied on the girl and her brother, who was 16 years old, to interpret for hospital staff.

The doctor sent the family home with a prescription and important instructions, written in English, citing that she should return to the hospital in the case of specific side effects. Tragically, the girl later had a severe drug reaction and died of a heart attack. The doctor and the hospital settled the malpractice claim in the amount of $200,000. 

Ad Astra translates medical insurance 

Common Mistakes in Translation  

These cases highlight the potential costs of mistranslation in the insurance industry. Many of the most common mistakes in translation occur when companies:  

  1. Don’t use consistent terminology.  Using inconsistent terminology can lead to confusion and errors in translation. 
  2. Don’t understand the tone of the content. Failure to understand the tone of the content can lead to misunderstandings and mistranslations. 
  3. Work too fast against aggressive timelines. Tight deadlines can lead to rushed translations, which can result in errors and inaccuracies. 
  4. Don’t focus on formatting to convey accurate information. Neglecting proper formatting can lead to confusion and errors.

A business woman contacts Ad Astra for policy translation help

Work with a Reliable Insurance Translation Provider 

At Ad Astra, we understand the potential costs and negative consequences of mistranslations. That’s why we prioritize accurate translation and cultural understanding in all of our services. 

Accurate translation is critical for insurance providers to ensure that all members have equal access to insurance coverage. Without accurate translation, members may not understand their benefits, limitations and exclusions, leading to costly misunderstandings and potential lawsuits. 

Insurance providers should prioritize accurate translation to ensure that all members have equal access to insurance coverage. By working with expert language providers like us, companies can avoid costly mistakes and ensure that their insurance plans are accurately translated and accessible to all members, regardless of language barriers!