The answer, of course, is: it depends.
It depends on whom you ask. It depends on whether it is a rhetorical question or a quest for quantifiable numbers. And it depends on the timing of the question.
A couple of years ago, Renato Beninatto made a splash in the translation industry by proclaiming that quality doesn't matter. While not intended to be taken literally, his point that "quality, from a sales perspective, and the way it is talked about in the translation industry, is totally irrelevant, it doesn't mean anything" is right-on.
Contrast that with quality expectations held by typical medical device clients. When we asked the client panelists during our company meeting about translation quality, they all stressed its importance - yet all struggled to define translation quality.
We all think that we can spot the absence of quality. "Did a machine translate this?" is an oft-heard complaint. And who hasn't shared a laugh about the supposed Chevy-Nova-in-Latin-America fairy tale?
But how do you define and put a price on the existence of quality? That's much harder to do.
Different clients and medical translation providers have taken different approaches to this: SLAs, KPIs, metrics, performance penalties, client satisfaction surveys, E&O insurance, and quality certifications are just a few ways in which medical translators aim to increase the perceived quality of their language services.
But it's all in the realm of "perceptions". Danilo Nogueira's great article Translation Economics 101 discusses perceived quality vs. fair prices. One big take-away from Danilo's article is the elasticity of pricing due to timing: If a translation provider is not busy, they might provide the same level of service and quality at a lower cost.
Medical device and pharmaceutical companies' views of translation quality and pricing also differ around timing. During an RFP, quality is "assumed" and "a given". But when things go wrong at an operational level, quality all of a sudden is "worth paying for".
And things really can go wrong. As we noted the other day, translation mistakes can lead to product recalls and improper surgical procedures. It is scary to look at the human and financial costs of language mistakes.
For medical translation providers, then, the challenge is to make translation quality objective enough so that drug and device clients can decide how much quality to pay for. It's not enough to talk about streamlining (or automating) service-delivery processes. Unless the impact on final quality can be measured and assessed, the real price of translation quality remains unknown.
[Tip of the hat to Terena Bell for pointing out Economics Of Language Services In Healthcare]
For expert medical translations of regulatory, clinical, and marketing content in 40+ languages, request a detailed proposal from ForeignExchange Translations.