Lost in Translation? Drug Label Translation Proposal Presents Problems for Patients, Pharmacists

Eileen Oldfield, Associate Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Follow Pharmacy_Times:
Proposal would require California pharmacists to dispense medications with labels translated into languages they cannot read. 

In California, pharmacists and patients face a catch-22: patients who cannot understand English say they cannot read the labels on their medications, and that translating the labels would help them. The act of translation, however, would create a situation in which pharmacists are dispensing medications that they cannot verify because they do not know the language in which the labels are written.
The California Board of Pharmacy will consider whether drug labels should be translated into a language the patient understands at its July 31, 2014, meeting.
Jon R. Roth, CAE, chief executive officer for the California Pharmacists Association, said the proposed rule presents serious legal liabilities for pharmacists—particularly if they cannot understand the language in either spoken or written form.
“Pharmacists, of course, want to provide the highest level of patient-centered care in as culturally-competent [a] manner as possible,” Roth said in an e-mail to Pharmacy Times. “However, the pharmacist is the last licensed professional that the patient will interact with before they begin their medications. By mandating that a pharmacist dispense a medication with a label that the pharmacist can neither read nor write, we believe is the equivalent of malpractice, and the pharmacist’s personal responsibility and professional license are on the line for an error that could occur with the directions on the translated container.”
The California Board of Pharmacy requires no-cost oral translation of both prescription labels and instructions offered by either a call-in hotline or by pharmacy staff. Pharmacists in the state have also been required to display a poster informing patients of their right to no-cost translations, as well as a series of phrases to which patients can point to alert the pharmacist of a need for translation.
According to the Fresno Bee, the board itself is required to provide written translations of basic instructions in Spanish, Korean, Russian, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
Dispensing translated labels makes California pharmacists uncomfortable, particularly because the pharmacist would be legally liable for any mistake on the translated label, Roth told the Fresno Bee.
Still, public health advocates in the state say that the changes are overdue, and the explanations provided do not go far enough.
Roth says translating the label only covers a small portion of medication therapy, and does not cover some of the truly important information about correct medication use.
“Ensuring safe, quality medication use is not just about reading the label; it is ensuring that patients understand everything about that medication, such as side effects and what to look for in an adverse reaction,” Roth said. “That information isn’t on a label, but is equal, if not more important, than what is on the label. Engaging the patient in a conversation about their medicines using an interpreter is the most important characteristic for ensuring they will take the medication correctly.”

Related Articles
As the 2015 American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Session and Expo concludes, take a look at a few of the latest discoveries that were presented at the conference.
More than 2 years after a pharmacy in Sacramento, California, was robbed, a DNA match to the bloodstain left at the scene of the crime has led to an arrest.
When California Health Sciences University was founded in 2012, the very first program offered was the College of Pharmacy due to high demand for pharmacists in the Central Valley area.
Fed up with alleged unpaid overtime and missed rest periods, a Walmart pharmacist is fighting back against the retail giant with a class action suit.
Latest Issues
  • photo
    Pharmacy Times
    Health-System Edition
    Directions in Pharmacy
    OTC Guide
    Generic Supplements
  • photo
    Pharmacy Careers
    Specialty Pharmacy Times