With more than 23 million Americans having limited English proficiency, language barriers can compromise quality of care and impact patient safety. In a study done at a Minneapolis clinic, adherence issues occurred with 31 percent of non-English speaking patients due to not understanding the directions for taking their medications.
While pharmacies aren't legally required to provide translation services, they're required to counsel patients, which is why many pharmacies are able to offer translation services upon request. In Wisconsin, a survey of community pharmacies in Milwaukee found that only about half provide translated prescription labels or printed information. Approximately two-thirds of those pharmacies rarely communicated verbally with non-English speaking patients in other languages. In Pennsylvania, medication errors comprised one of the top three events that most frequently affected patients with limited English proficiency. These studies show that improved communication with non-English speaking patients could be beneficial.
Having information in a patient’s primary language can improve communication to ensure that patients take medication safely. One suggestion made by community pharmacies is to have the prescriber indicate the patient's preferred non-English language on the prescription.
Other tips for improving patient understanding include:
For more information, refer to the American College of Physicians or Journal of American Pharmacists Association.