California Takes On Translated Prescription Labels

California Takes On Translated Prescription Labels

by Translation Guy on November 6, 2014
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A significant number of Californians speak languages other than English at home. No one disputes that. Should prescription labels favor patients or pharmacists though? That is the question.

California’s Board of Pharmacy is considering a requirement that when pharmacies dispense medication, the prescription instructions must be available in English as well as in the state’s other major languages, such as Spanish and Chinese.

A few years ago, California’s Board of Pharmacy adopted some patient-centered measures like increasing the font size of prescription labels (which helped elderly patients in particular), requiring that prescription labels dedicate more of their space to information for patients and requiring pharmacies to provide foreign-language interpretation services at the pharmacy.

Now with the patient-centered focus of the Affordable Care Act, California’s Board of Pharmacy is considering additional patient-friendly measures.

Having prescription labels and prescription instructions in one’s native language can better help patients adhere to medication schedules, and it can improve patient outcomes all around. For if a patient does not really understand how or when to take a medication, you can bet that medication is almost certainly ineffective. So for patients, prescription labels and prescription instructions in their native language can be a lifesaver.

However, pharmacists aren’t so sure. If a prescription label is in a different language, pharmacists do not necessarily know if that is the right label or instructions for the patient. There is also the possibility of translation error. Will pharmacists be responsible for incorrect labels and faulty translations?

California’s Board of Pharmacy already offers standardized translations for 16 common medications in the five most common languages other than English and it encourages pharmacists to use them. Also, many pharmacies already provide patients with prescription labels in different languages.

So for those pharmacies who don’t currently provide translated prescription labels, should they be required to? I guess we will have to wait and see if California follows New York’s lead on this.

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