Many NYC pharmacies fail to translate prescription labels for non-English patients

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Prescription drug labels

Despite widespread capacity to provide prescription medication labels in languages other than English, few New York City pharmacies do so and as a result, limited-English patients face serious risk of medication error, according to a study by The New York Academy of Medicine presented today at the annual meeting of the Society for General Internal Medicine (SGIM) in Toronto, Ontario.

"Imagine, as an English speaker, picking up a prescription with a label in Chinese--you have no idea what it says. Many New York immigrants face such high-risk gaps in our health care services when presented with a medication bottle in English," said Linda Weiss, Ph.D, senior research associate at The New York Academy of Medicine and lead author of the study. "New York City pharmacies would engage in good health and business practices by providing labels and health counseling in languages their patients understand."

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Weiss notes that existing laws require all healthcare providers who receive federal funds to offer language services to limited English proficient (LEP) patients. To date, those laws have been applied at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and Medicaid agencies. However, because many pharmacy customers use Medicare and Medicaid to purchase prescription drugs, Weiss and her coauthors are examining in ongoing studies if these language requirements also extend to pharmacies.

For this study, the investigators randomly selected 200 pharmacies from the 2,186 licensed pharmacies in New York City in 2006. Participating pharmacies included independent drugstores, chains, and outpatient hospital and clinic pharmacies. They found that while 88 percent of surveyed New York City pharmacists reported serving LEP customers daily, only 34 percent reported translating labels daily, despite 80 percent reporting the ability to do so. Another 26 percent never translate labels.

New York City is home to 130 languages and 8.2 million people, including 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

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