The Problem of Prescription Language Translations in Pharmacies

Our Pharmacy Misfill Attorneys in Baltimore, Maryland recently posted a blog that discussed the epidemic of prescription error stemming from poor language translations in pharmacies across the country—causing pharmacy misfill and medication errors that could lead to patient injury.

In a study that our attorneys discussed, published in the May issue of Pediatrics, researchers found that pharmacies using labels that have been translated into Spanish with a computer program often provide inaccurate or confusing drug instructions filled with medication errors—often delivered in a mix of English and Spanish or “Spanglish.” The study looked at 76 labels for prescriptions generated by 13 different pharmacy translation computer programs, and there was a reported error rate of 50 percent.

Dr. Alejandro Clavier, a doctor in Chicago told the Chicago Tribune that he experiences translation issues with his patients in his practice every day. In one example, a patient who suffers from anemia was not improving after taking the iron supplements that Clavier prescribed. Clavier found that the patient had only been taking one drop of the iron supplement—not the stronger dosage Clavier prescribed. The patient had reportedly received instructions from the pharmacy that were confusing and hard to understand.

According to a study performed by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, many pharmacies in four states with a large and growing Latino population are unable to even provide translations for prescriptions. The 2009 study found that nearly 35 percent of the pharmacies surveyed did not even offer translations services, and 22 percent offered pharmacy translations that were limited.

Stacy Cooper Bailey, a clinical research associate at Feinberg School of Medicine, who was the lead researcher for the study, found that in some cases pharmacy staff with limited translation services would employ staff members to translate who had high-school levels of Spanish. One employee of a pharmacy claimed that when faced with a prescription translation, he would ask the Mexican restaurant down the street for help.

Carmen Velasquez, the executive director of the Alivio Medical Center in Chicago, claims that choosing computer programs to translate important medical information for a patient is a poor and inappropriate substitute for human heath care. The Alivio Medical Center provides 21,000 patients, who speak mostly Spanish, with English and Spanish services. Velasquez claims that in health care, if you have the responsibility of an individual’s life, you should know what you are saying and doing.

If you or someone you know has been injured by a medication mistake or pharmacy misfill in Maryland or the Washington, D.C. area, contact the attorneys at Lebowitz and Mzhen, LLC for a free consultation. Call us today at 1-800-654-1949.

Translated Prescriptions Often Wrong, Chicago Tribune, May 12, 2010

Related Web Resources:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: (FDA)

National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention, (NCCMERP)

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