Policymakers and healthcare advocates have grappled with the challenge of providing useful labeling of prescription drugs to non-English-speakers in the U.S. With a large immigrant population and a medication errors being a growing concern for FDA, accurate translations of drug labels are correctly viewed as being critical.
And some progress has been made: Since 2009, for instance, New York City pharmacy chains have offered translated medicine labels to customers.
However, efforts to legislate similar services elsewhere have run into trouble. In California, SB 1390 would have established meaningful patient-centered prescription labeling by requiring pharmacies to provide labels in a readable and understandable format, including at least 12-point font and in the patient's primary language. The bill also would have required pharmacies to provide interpreter services.
The bill didn't find widespread support (it's main sponsor was the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network). After an earlier version of the bill was "gutted" by the Board of Pharmacy, the bill failed in Assembly Business and Professions Committee and died for good.
While the pharmacy lobby may applaud this turn of events, healthcare advocates across the land are deeply troubled. "As California goes, so goes the nation", as the old saying goes.
Interestingly enough, medical translation providers are also disappointed. One article discussing the debate in California referred to SB 1390 as an "unprecedented opportunity for those who provide translation services". Who knows, maybe we can apply for a bailout from the California legislature?
Here are three other articles that we have written about translating prescription labels:
- 50% of translated Spanish medicine labels have errors - yikes!
- Three videos to show that the topic of multilingual healthcare is getting much broader attention
- Pharmacists believe that they are damned if you do, damned if you don't provide language assistance services
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