Tip of the Week: Employ Dual-Language Speaking Staff to Address Communication Barriers


Patients who received information in their native language reported being more likely to understand the information about their medication.

The demographic composition of the United States continues to evolve. Experts expect the number of patients who are limited English proficient (LEP) to grow from its current estimation at 9% of the U.S population.1 Language barriers have been reported as an obstacle for the formation of effective rapport between healthcare providers and patients and thus might be a principal driver of health care disparities.2

In a study conducted by Moreno et al., the effects of using interpreters for recipients of new prescription medications among Spanish-speaking Latinos were observed across 8 pharmacy sites.3 The researchers used cross-sectional survey data and examined 5 measures of new prescription medication advising, including explanation of medication purpose, explanation of possible side effects, explanation of medication directions, receipt of written information in Spanish from the pharmacy, and receipt of a medicine bottle with a Spanish language label. The results revealed that 69% of individuals in this study required and used an interpreter. The study also demonstrated that patients who used an interpreter reported higher-rated medication advising and when doing so, they were more likely to understand the important information presented to them about the newly prescribed medication.3

This study clearly shows that patients who are LEP can benefit from communication in their native language. Language barriers not only impact medication adherence and health care disparities but also negatively impact patient satisfaction.4 Community pharmacies are potentially well-suited to address language barriers for LEP individuals seeking health care services. Pharmacists would do well to gain a better understanding of the demographic compositions and the needs of the communities they are serving. Pharmacy managers can consider adjustments in their hiring practices to prioritize dual-language proficiency as a principal qualification. These staff members can not only help with providing care but can also report on patients’ unmet needs, which can be good not for delivering effective care as well as for business.

Additional information about Value-Added Services can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e.

Sina Hosseini is a PharmD candidate at Touro University California.

Shane P. Desselle, PhD, is a professor of social and behavioral pharmacy at Touro University California.


1. Schwei RJ, Schroeder M, Ejebe I, et al. Limited english proficient patients’ perceptions of when interpreters are needed and how the decision to utilize interpreters is made. Health Commun. 2018;33(12):1503-1508.

2. Andreae MH, White RS, Chen KY, Nair S, Hall C, Shaparin N. The effect of initiatives to overcome language barriers and improve attendance: A cross-sectional analysis of adherence in an inner city chronic pain clinic. Pain Med. 2017;18(2):265-274.

3. Moreno G, Tarn DM, Morales LS. Impact of interpreters on the receipt of new prescription medication information among spanish-speaking Latinos. Med Care. 2009;47(12):1201-1208.

4. David RA, Rhee M. The impact of language as a barrier to effective health care in an underserved urban Hispanic community. Mt Sinai J Med N Y. 1998;65(5-6):393-397.

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