As the popularity of Google Translate and Bing rises, one has to consider the “life and death” circumstances under which, using such tools is definitely not recommended.

Calif. Pharmacists Largely Oppose Translated Rx Drug Labels

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Many pharmacists in California are opposed to offering prescription instructions in languages they do not understand, despite patient advocates’ assertions that providing translated written directions could reduce the risk of patient harm, the Sacramento Bee reports.
On July 31, stakeholders will discuss the issue during a meeting of the California Board of Pharmacy, which regulates all pharmacies in the state (Caiola, Sacramento Bee, 7/24).

According to recent census data, about 44% of California residents speak a language besides English, and more than half of such residents speak limited or no English. In addition, experts have estimated that about one-third of the three million California residents who have gained health coverage through the Affordable Care Act will speak limited English.

There are no federal requirements that regulate medication instruction translations.

Following the passage of a state law (SB 472) in 2007, the state pharmacy board began offering on its website standard dose instructions in Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. However, the law does not require that pharmacies use the translations, and many do not.

California Board of Pharmacy CEO Virginia Herold said a survey of more than 200 pharmacies in the state found that about 70% offered some sort of prescription instruction translations, but the quality of such translations is unknown because not many used the translations provided on the board’s website.
State residents also have the right to no-cost oral translations of prescription labels and instructions offered via a hotline or pharmacy staff (California Healthline, 6/26).

Pharmacists’ Concerns
California Pharmacists Association CEO Jon Roth said most pharmacists in California believe that the current translation requirements are appropriate and no further changes are necessary.

Roth said that most pharmacists would feel uncomfortable distributing medication instructions in a language they do not speak fluently because “the pharmacists cannot validate what they are handing over to the patient.” In addition, Roth said that pharmacists could be held liable for translation mistakes.

He said, “We think the potential for error outweighs the potential gain for a patient receiving medication in a translated form.”

Further, Roth argued that a translated label requirement could disrupt pharmacists’ workflow and result in “greater waste and higher costs.”

Patient Advocates Support Rx Label Changes
Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC-Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, said that while it could be costly and complicated to require pharmacists to offer translated written drug labels, “it is more expensive not to provide the right treatment in a way that patients will comply with. They will potentially be in harm’s way, which will require them to use emergency services, which is also expensive.”

Aguilar-Gaxiola said that legislation likely would be necessary to implement such a change, even if the pharmacy board updates its translation requirements (Sacramento Bee, 7/24).