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Many NYC Pharmacies Fail to Translate Prescription Labels for Patients Who Don't Understand English

g 2.9 million foreign-born residents. An estimated one of every four adult New Yorkers cannot speak or read English well and 46 percent of the city’s population speaks a language other than English at home.

"Considering the importance of taking medication as prescribed, everyone deserves to have their medication instructions in a language they can understand," said co-author Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., M.P.H., a Spanish-speaking physician with Columbia University's Center for the Health of Urban Minorities, who discussed the data in an oral presentation at SIGM. "If pharmacies don’t have multi-lingual staff, then label translation software is widely available. This is a simple, feasible, and low-cost initial step to help patients."

Of pharmacists surveyed, 77 percent reported that they can print labels in Spanish, and a smaller percent (12 percent) can print in Chinese, Russian or other languages. Some 52 percent reported they could provide translated patient information sheets.

Pharmacists cited a number of barriers to improved language access, including the need for additional translation tools (24 percent) and bilingual personnel (20 percent). A small number (5 percent) cited legal concerns. Specifically, they fear being held liable if they print medication information in a language that they don’t understand and fail to spot a flawed translation. Others cited time (7 percent) and cost (7 percent) constraints.

A number of pharmacists said they prefer to translate verbally, rather than via printed labels, because they feel it is more personal. However, study authors found that verbal information may be provided by someone without adequate language skills or not qualified to do so. For example, although 75 percent of the pharmacies had Spanish-speaking staff, less than a quarter (22 percent) of pharmacies had Spanish-speaking pharmacists or pharmacy interns, who are legally qualified to provide medication counseling in
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