Study: Availability of Prescription Labels in Spanish Is Limited

February 2006 - A study of New York City pharmacies found that only 69 percent have the ability to provide prescription labels in Spanish and that pharmacists only do so upon customer request, despite the high concentration of Spanish speakers in the area surveyed.

In addition, the accuracy of the prescriptions that are translated is uncertain, which could lead to errors when patients take medication, say study authors led by Iman Sharif, M.D., of the Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

"Automatically printing labels in both Spanish and English would probably be a very good first step to addressing this issue," Sharif said. "To be effective and to avoid disparities in health-care delivery to minority groups, the mandate should apply to all pharmacies across the United States."

The research team conducted a telephone survey of all pharmacies in the Bronx to determine if Spanish prescription labels were available in the study in the February issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

Of the 161 pharmacies that participated, only 111 said they could provide prescription labels in Spanish, although the population in the area defined as Spanish-speaking was over 46 percent overall.

Most of the pharmacies used a computer program for translating; 11 percent used their staff for this purpose. Smaller pharmacies that were not part of large chains and those in areas with higher populations of Spanish speakers were more likely to have translation available.

"As the Spanish-speaking population has grown, many other things have been translated easily into Spanish television programs, magazines, instructions on toys," Sharif said. "However, the Spanish-speaking population is still very underrepresented among legislators and decision-makers who drive health-care delivery."

Lourdes M. Cuellar, director of pharmacy services at the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research in Houston, said, "Only 3 percent of pharmacists in the United States are of Hispanic origin, so we start off with a gigantic cultural deficit. Independent pharmacies or smaller pharmacies have always been far more patient-oriented in their delivery of care they know their customers." She added that the same problem occurs in other groups whose first language is not English.

"Physicians should advise Spanish-speaking patients to request that pharmacies print their medication labels in Spanish, and should include that request on the prescription," the authors say. "However, we advise that physicians not rely on the availability of Spanish medication labels as evidence that the instructions will be easily translated and understood by patients."

According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, Spanish is spoken by 30 million native citizens of the United States (12 percent of the population).

Source: Center for the Advancement of Health