Multilingual Drug Label Law Passed by California Lawmakers


Pharmacists in California could soon be required to provide prescription drug labels in 5 languages besides English under a law unanimously passed by state lawmakers.

Pharmacists in California could soon be required to provide prescription drug labels in 5 languages besides English under a law unanimously passed by state lawmakers.

Under state bill A.B. 1073, California pharmacists would need to provide medication instructions in Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean—the 5 most common languages in the state after English—upon request from patients or their caregivers.

The bill now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. If signed into law, the measure will take effect January 1, 2016.

The California Board of Pharmacy already requires no-cost, oral translation of both prescription labels and instructions by either pharmacy staff or a call-in hotline.

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 their need for translation.

Such initiatives are particularly helpful for patients in California, where the US Census estimates that almost 20% of residents, or 6.8 million individuals, are believed to have limited English skills.

If the multilingual drug label initiative is signed into law, California will join New York as the only 2 states in the nation to require pharmacists to provide non-English medication information.

Unlike New York’s law, which only pertains to pharmacy chains with at least 8 stores, California’s measure would cover pharmacies of all sizes.

This could pose certain challenges for smaller pharmacies, California Pharmacists Association CEO Jon Roth, CAE, exclusively told Pharmacy Times.

“The primary challenge for smaller independent pharmacies will be related to acquiring and integrating software into their pharmacy system that is needed to perform the translations,” he said.

“For a smaller independent pharmacy that is using a older or smaller software vendor, they may need to purchase a supplemental program in order to comply with the requirement.”

Nevertheless, Roth said the law would help the state’s pharmacists provide “the most culturally appropriate care possible” and ensure that “patients can read the directions on a prescription [which] will result in fewer complications for how the medication is to be taken and improve adherence.”

The bill’s sponsor, California Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), noted in a statement, “Pharmacy services are an integral part of health care, and language skills should never be an impediment to equal access.”

“California is the most linguistically diverse state in the nation,” he said. “By ensuring that all patients understand their medications, we will save lives and improve health care for millions of people.”

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