Online Medical Terminology Resources

This article was originally posted on the Wordbee blog. Wordbee are the makers of the popular translation management platform and CAT tool for translators.

Life science is one of the most arduous specializations in translation for its vital implications. Medical equipment is highly regulated and medical translation requires the utmost care during all phases of the workflow, especially for terminology management. 

We have already talked and written about the importance of terminology within the localization workflow. Terminology accuracy is even more crucial when dealing with healthcare and medical devices, as well as with clinical, regulator, and pharmaceutical documentation. Medical translation requires specific training and subject matter knowledge. After all, this is where people’s lives are really at stake.

As we have seen in other posts in this blog, accuracy, consistency and efficiency are crucial. Terminology can help in this respect. 

To help you with terminology management and make your translation processes more effective, we’ve selected a few online medical translation resources that we consider among the best for you to share with the linguists in your team. 

Basic Medical Terminology Resources

If you’re new to medical terminology, you might want to start with this Beginner’s Guide to Medical Terminolog, especially section 3 and 4 on the etymology of many medical terms.

Stedman’s Online. A classic whose origins dates back to 1833, when Robley Dunglison, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia who was the personal physician to presidents Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson, first produced it. The website has loads of medical information (including illustrations, videos and downloadable PDFs), available on subscription.

A free alternative to Stedman’s online medical dictionary is the FreeDictionary’s Medical Dictionary, whose main source is The American Heritage® Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, Second Edition. It contains descriptions of medical conditions, medications, and anatomical terms. The live search feature is quite intriguing: on the left-hand side of your screen you can see in real time what medical terms people are searching on the website. (Caution: highly addictive feature!)

Merriam-Webster Medical. English only and available for free, it offers explanations of medical terms, acronyms and abbreviations to the lay public. Ideal if you have doubts on how to pronounce a word as the pronunciation of most terms has been recorded.

European Medical Agency (a.k.a. EMA). EMA is an agency of the European Union responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines whose activities involve thousands of experts from all across Europe. Using a wide range of regulatory mechanisms to fulfill its mission, EMA’s scope is much wider that the American FDA’s.

In addition to all the information you might need on medicine, drugs and every possible regulatory aspect, the EMA website also provides the official product information templates, available in 24 languages. By downloading and aligning the templates, you can create a reference corpus, hance a translation memory and build a termbase from it. You might also start with the EMA glossary to familiarize with the regulatory terminology.

Merck Manuals. Merck Sharp & Dohme is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, established in 1891 as the US subsidiary of the German company Merck, which was founded in 1668. The manuals have been published since 1899, starting as a small reference book for doctors and pharmacists. Today they are an essential medical resource for professionals and consumers. The professional website is available in 9 languages: English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. The consumer website is available in all the languages as the professional website, plus Korean and Arabic.

PubMedThis is probably one of a medical translators’ best friend, coming directly from the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health It is a free resource, developed and maintained by the US NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information). It contains some 30 million citations for biomedical literature, life science journals, abstracts and online books. To help its users dig into this wonder trove of information, PubMed has created some YouTube video tutorials.

MedDRA. Developed in the 1990s by ICH in the attempt to standardize medical terminology, the MedDRA website offers information about the registration, the documentation and the monitoring of medical products during the various steps of the authorization process. Here you’ll find information about different kinds of products: pharmaceuticals, biologics, vaccines and drug-device combinations. Available, on subscription, in the following languages: English (master), Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. As explained on the website, each term in the database is assigned a unique code that remains unvaried in all the available languages.

For Terminology Indiana Joneses 

All the resources mentioned above have English as the main language. There are, of course, medical terminology resources available on the internet. You might start your search from the Glossarissimo! website, that collects links to glossaries not just on medicine but also other domains and with many language combinations. The website comes with a quick search guide. We did a test search with “(IT) medicine” and found many useful resources.

Don’t forget that most of the terminological resources we presented in a previous article have a filter option, like, for example, IATE and DIN-Term. The latter is particularly useful in connection with the international standards for medical devices like ISO 13485 and ISO 14971.

Finally, a word about the Oracle: You can dig in Google Books and Google Scholar to validate terminology or find difficult terms hidden in articles, abstracts, forgotten books and dictionaries.