Simple patient care instructions translate best: Safety guidelines for physician use of Google translate

Joseph M Miller, Erin M Harvey, Steven Bedrick, Prashanthinie Mohan, Elizabeth Calhoun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine predictors of quality and safety of machine translation (Google Translate) of patient care instructions (PCIs), and to determine if machine back translation is useful in quality assessment. Methods: 100 sample English PCIs were contributed by 88 clinical faculty. Each example PCI was up to 3 sentences of typical patient instruction that might be included in an after visit summary. Google Translate was used to first translate the English to Spanish, then back to English. A panel of 6 English/Spanish translators assessed the Spanish translations for safety and quality. A panel of 6 English-speaking health care workers assessed the back translation. A 5-point scale was used to assess quality. Safety was assessed as safe or unsafe. Results: Google Translate was usually (> 90%) capable of safe and comprehensible translation from English to Spanish. Instructions with incresed complexity, especially regarding medications, were prone to unsafe translation. Back translation was not reliable in detecting unsafe Spanish. Conclusion: Google Translate is a continuously evolving resource for clinicians that offers the promise of improved physicianpatient communication. Simple declarative sentences are most reliably translated with high quality and safety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Clinical Outcomes Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • After-visit summary
  • Electronic health record
  • Machine translation
  • Patient safety
  • Physician-patient communication
  • Translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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