JAMA Highlights Study on Translation Services for Rx Drugs in New York City
The Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday examined the issue of whether patients with limited or no English-language skills are able to understand their prescription medications and the role pharmacists play in ensuring such patients take their medications properly.
JAMA highlighted a recent study conducted by the New York Academy of Medicine on how pharmacists in New York City, which has about 2.9 million foreign-born residents who speak 130 different languages, handle patients with limited English proficiency. According to the study, 88% of 200 surveyed pharmacists said they served patients with limited English skills on a daily basis (Mitka, JAMA, 6/20).
In addition, the study found that 34% of New York City pharmacies reported having translated prescription drug labels daily for customers with limited English language skills, though 80% reported having the ability to do so. Current laws require health care providers receiving federal funds to provide translation services (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 5/1).
Lead study author Linda Weiss, a senior research associate at the New York Academy of Medicine, said, "What surprised me is that the capacity to translate was there, but pharmacists were not doing it. I had assumed that if they weren't translating, it was because they couldn't do it." She added, "This is just not an area that has received a lot of attention in pharmacy education or practice. With all the other concerns pharmacists have, this is basically not on their radar."
Translating medication labels into a patient's native language does not guarantee that the patient receives the necessary information, as some patients are not literate and the quality of the translation also can be a concern, JAMA reports. Another problem is that pharmacists sometimes do not know patients cannot speak English, according to JAMA. Craig Burridge, executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, suggested that physicians write on the prescription that the patient does not speak English. Weiss added that pharmacies could display signs stating the availability of translation services, which could prompt patients to let pharmacies know about their language limitations (JAMA, 6/20).