Medical translators are often sent short case reports to translate. In this blog, I will describe what a case report is, with a brief description of both form and content, list some of the challenges for the translator, and explain why I love translating these case reports.
1. What is a Case Report
An article published a few years ago in Heart View describes a case report as a “a detailed report of the symptoms, signs, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of an individual patient”.
The aim of a case report is generally to describe unusual events so that fellow clinicians are duly informed and can act accordingly. Essentially they are short communications between busy clinicians who may have neither the time nor resources to invest in further research.
Reporting guidelines are another valuable resource. The EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) Network is “an international initiative that seeks to improve the reliability and value of published health research literature by promoting transparent and accurate reporting and wider use of robust reporting guidelines”.
They have drawn up an excellent checklist of items to be included when writing a case report (CARE checklist).
Generally a case report should look something like this:
A summary of main points broken down into the following sections: introduction, symptoms/findings, main diagnoses/therapeutic interventions/outcomes and conclusions.
A brief description of why this case is unique.
Follow-up and outcomes
This section is the scientific discussion of the strengths and limitations with this case report, as well as a discussion of the relevant medical literature, the scientific rationale for conclusions and the primary “take-away” lessons of this case report.
3. The challenges for the translator
So now that we know what a case report is, it would appear a pretty straightforward document to translate. This can be deceptive as case reports can at times be extremely tricky. To accurately translate a case report, the translator needs to be familiar with:
medical terminology in the specific field (neurology, cardiology, etc.)
medical abbreviations in the specific field (neurology, cardiology, etc.)
specific publication guidelines depending on journal (some have a their own template)
specific reporting guidelines for case reports (see above CARE checklist).
There are numerous resources available online to resolve terminology issues. Translating acronyms and abbreviations is more complex. We must be vigilant as a common acronyms in one medical speciality may not be the same in another.
Another issue is that authors, at least in my core languages, are not always consistent when using abbreviations. An author writing in Spanish could use the English abbreviation LV to refer to the left ventricle even when writing in Spanish, then in the next paragraph use the Spanish abbreviation VI(ventrículo izquierdo), and in the next paragraph, if from Catalonia, use the Catalan VE (ventricle esquerre). This can leave the poor translator rather perplexed. It is only with experience that we eventually become more aware of the most commonly used abbreviations.
4. Why I enjoy translating case reports
I love translating case report as they are short, informative and to the point. Each one is different. Each one is a new event that I have not heard of so I am always learning. It is a bit like watching my favourite detective series, trying to find the culprit causing the patient’s symptoms. I am always keen to get to the end to see how events unfold, and hate the sad endings with fatal outcomes.
Also, as soon as I read the section “…an 88-year-old woman admitted to A&E with…” I immediately think this could be my 88-year-old grandmother. I like that the doctor who attended her took the time to make the report so that her experience may serve to inform other physicians around the world and in doing so provide better care for future patients.
It is extremely important, therefore, that we take the time to painstakingly translate each and every case report.