Most states in the U.S. don’t require pharmacies to provide translated materials or verbal counseling to non-English speakers so Spanish speakers picking up their prescriptions may be one dose away from disaster.
Even pharmacies that do translate prescriptions may be providing faulty information. Commonly used computer programs that translate prescription labels had an overall error rate of 50 percent, according to a study of the software programs used by Bronx pharmacies released in 2010.
Some phrases simply were not translated, according to researchers. Those include descriptions such as “dropperfuls,” “apply topically,” “for 7 days,” “for 30 days,” “apply to affected areas,” “with juice,” “take with food,” and “once a day.” Other phrases, such as “once a day,” were incorrectly translated to “eleven times a day.”
According to the study, one garbled prescription label translated to: “Take 1.2 aldia give dropperfuls with juice eleven to day.”
While many states require translational services in hospitals and clinics, only California and New York City have similar requirements in pharmacies. Other states, including Washington state, are working on adopting similar legislation.
New York City enacted the law, which affects chain pharmacies with more than four locations, following a discrimination complaint four years ago by immigrant advocacy groups. Activists who paved the way for the law to be passed in New York City are currently behind a bill that would expand the requirement to the rest of the state