America is a melting pot, and it always has been. Throughout our nation’s entire history there have been members of our community who have spoken languages other than English as their primary language. As medical science advanced and our medical system became more complicated, we have had to take steps to ensure that both international guests and new immigrant residents can obtain medical care when necessary. Some doctors have taken it upon themselves to learn second or even third languages, and hospitals work to bring in translators when necessary. However, a big hole in this system exists on the pharmacy side of things. When the instructions that come with prescription drugs are either not translated or are improperly translated for a non-English speaking patient, the result can be injury or even wrongful death.
California Delayed Action on Translating Prescription Drug Labels
The Sacramento Bee reported earlier this year that the California State Board of Pharmacy opted not to decide yet whether pharmacies should be required to translate prescription drug labels for patients with limited or no English-language skills. Most people at a meeting of the Board agreed that change is necessary in part because of the relatively high rate of adverse medical reactions amongst patients with limited English. However, a host of complicating issues also arose at the meeting relating to how many different translations would be necessary, how accuracy would be insured, and who would be held responsible for inaccurate translations and their consequences.
Pharmacists Amongst Those Fighting Translation
NPR reported that California pharmacists are amongst the opponents of requiring translations of medicine labels. The reason they give is that they believe it will open them up to liability if there is a mistake in the translation. As an example, Brian Warren of the California Pharmacists Association said, “If the label is translated into Russian and there’s an error, and I’m a pharmacist that does not speak Russian, I cannot verify that that error exists.” While this is certainly not a reason to stand by and allow non-English-speaking patients to continue to suffer, it does demonstrate that a strong system of checking the translations must be put in place before the translations are done.
Another issue that came up in the NPR report involves pill bottle size. Some pharmacists are worried that requiring the translated instructions will require larger pill bottles. The fear is that, because patients do not like dealing with large pill bottles they will remove the pills from the bottle and put them in some other container, rendering the instructions useless. This argument seems a little silly-even if the patient does remove the pills from the larger bottle, at least he or she would be able to read the instructions in his or her primary language before doing so, which is still an improvement over the status quo.
New York Already Provides Translation Services
New York has already approved translation service requirements. In that state, pharmacies must provide patients with limited English proficiency with translated medication labels, warning labels, and other written materials. They provide the translations in four languages-Chinese, Italian, Russian, and Spanish. The New York law also provides that pharmacies will not be held liable if it uses a language service in good faith if an error occurs.
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