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Medical News & Perspectives
June 20, 2007

For Non-English Speakers, Drug Label Instructions Can Be Lost in Translation

JAMA. 2007;297(23):2575-2577. doi:10.1001/jama.297.23.2575

Non–English-speaking patients may not fully understand the purpose of a prescribed medication or how it should be taken. While pharmacists are expected to provide a safety net in this situation, a recent study suggests they can do better in providing critical information about the medications they dispense to these patients.

In the study, researchers from the New York Academy of Medicine found that 88% of 200 surveyed pharmacists in New York City reported serving people with limited English proficiency on a daily basis. Nearly 78% of pharmacies reported serving Spanish-speaking patients, nearly 16% said they served Chinese-speaking patients, and nearly 14% reported serving Russian-speaking patients. Moreover, these percentages were not achieved in limited English proficiency-only neighborhoods. The researchers, using census tract data, calculated a mean 24.3% of residents being served by a pharmacy as having limited English proficiency, with a range of 3.2% to 62.9%