Multilingual Pharmacists Create Bridge of Communication, Access for Patients


Language barriers between pharmacists and patients impacts medication adherence, patient education, and overall health outcomes, resulting in patient harm.

In 2019, almost 1 in 5 Americans spoke a language other than English at home. As our communities continue to diversify, the need for health professionals who can communicate in multiple languages has become more crucial than ever.1 Language barriers often hamper effective communication between pharmacists and patients, impacting medication adherence, patient education, and overall health outcomes, resulting in patient harm. The need for pharmacists who can bridge these gaps has become essential for optimizing patient care. Not just for convenience, accepting multilingualism represents inclusivity and equity within pharmacy, enhancing patient engagement and increasing access to health care.2

Happy man chooses medicine with help of young pharmacist in drugstore | Image Credit: Drazen -

Drazen -

Better Connection

Language proficiency in pharmacy also promotes a deeper connection with patients. One study showed that only 55% of pharmacists were satisfied with their communication with patients who had limited proficiency in English.3 Patients may feel helpless or powerless if they are unable to communicate; when pharmacists can communicate in different languages, it allows patients to feel more comfortable and engaged in their health care. This connection is important in ensuring patients feel heard, understood, and confident in managing their medications effectively. Patients will feel more comfortable sharing their concerns, asking questions, and requesting clarification on their medications.

Access to Health Care

For patients, language barriers remain a significant obstacle in accessing health care. Most pharmacists are often forced to use interpreters (non-health care professions or patient’s family member) or interpretation technology (Google Translate) to communicate crucial information. One survey found that limited English proficiency among patients can lead to misunderstandings, misdiagnoses, and compromised treatment adherence.3 These challenges not only affect the quality of care but also contribute to health disparities among different ethnic groups.

Medication Adherence

Medication adherence is a key feature in ensuring patients receive the best possible care. This crucial aspect of patient counseling is continually stressed to the patient, but ineffective communication can decrease a patient’s understanding. Being proficient in multiple languages is not just an advantage—it is a necessity for pharmacists to understand the needs and feelings of patients, allowing them to provide holistic and compassionate care to diverse patient populations. Fortunately, there are many methods to learn a new language, such as online courses, phone applications, and books offered to health care professionals. Technology also offers support to overcome language barriers, such as interpretation services and translation applications; however, it does not replace the authentic connection that comes with human interaction.

"Multilingualism is more than just increasing convenience; it signifies embracing inclusivity and fairness in the health care field."

Overcoming Language Disparity

Learning a new language is challenging, especially for busy working individuals, which makes it seem nearly impossible. However, learning opportunities exist to overcome language barriers. Several universities, such as Rice University and the University of New Hampshire, offer self-paced online Spanish courses designed specifically for health care professionals.4,5 These resources extend beyond providing only to individuals with a single language; they also offer opportunities for native speakers looking to familiarize themselves with medical terminology and improving their proficiency in another language within the health care setting.

For those who are not keen on formal language courses, consistent practice is the key. Learning a new language comes down to 3 core lessons: input, output, and review/feedback. The more you learn new information (input), apply it (output), and learn from your mistakes (review/feedback), the better your language skills become.6 Remember, making errors is all part of the learning curve and helps us grow. Accepting our mistakes is crucial—it's how we progress. Some patients find themselves required to learn a new language out of necessity. As health care professionals, it's on us to step up and ensure effective communication by meeting them halfway. It's our responsibility to bridge language barriers, ensuring effective and empathetic communication with patients is key to helping improve health outcomes.


In health care today, the importance of language proficiency among pharmacists is becoming more crucial. The large diversity in our communities highlights the increasing need for health care professionals who can communicate in various languages. Language barriers directly affect how well patients receive care, affecting everything from medication adherence to their overall wellbeing. Multilingualism is more than just increasing convenience; it signifies embracing inclusivity and fairness in the health care field. It's about ensuring that everyone, regardless of their language, feels valued and capable of managing their health confidently.

When it comes to ensuring fair and equitable health care, decreasing language barriers is an important step in this process. Learning a new language might seem intimidating, but there are many resources available for health care professionals. Consistent learning—implementing input, output, and learning from errors—can significantly improve pharmacists' language skills, which can enhance patient communication. Ultimately, our commitment to overcoming language barriers is not just a professional duty—it displays our dedication to providing empathetic, compassionate, patient-centric care. Embracing language diversity breaks down walls, making sure every patient feels genuinely heard, understood, and genuinely cared for, which may improve patient health outcomes.


  1. US Census Bureau. Nearly 68 Million People Spoke a Language Other Than English at Home in 2019. Published December 6, 2022. Accessed December 1, 2023.
  2. Valcarcel-Ares MN, Abdulrhim SH, Anders K, Ali RM, Mukhalalati BA, Mraiche F. Integrating Language Instruction into Pharmacy Education: Spanish and Arabic Languages as Examples. Int. Med. Educ. 2023;21;2(3):175-87. doi:
  3. Bradshaw M, Tomany-Korman S, Flores G. Language barriers to prescriptions for patients with limited English proficiency: a survey of pharmacies. Pediatrics. 2007;120(2):e225-e235. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-3151
  4. Rice University. Spanish for Successful Communication in Healthcare Settings Online Learning. Accessed December 1, 2023.
  5. University of New Hampshire. Spanish For Medical Professionals (Self-Paced Tutorial). Professional Development & Training. Published May 15, 2019. Accessed December 1, 2023.
  6. University of North Carolina a Chapel Hill. Learning Center. Learning a Second Language - Learning Center. Published 2015. Accessed December 1, 2023.
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