Should states require bilingual drug labels?

July 31, 2014

The California State Board of Pharmacy is considering new regulations that would require pharmacies throughout the state to provide translated labels on prescription drug bottles.

The California State Board of Pharmacy (CSBOP) is considering new regulations that would require pharmacies throughout the state to provide translated labels on prescription drug bottles.

Proponents of the change believe it would make it easier for state residents who do not speak English. An estimated 44% of California residents speak a language other than English at home. New York passed a similar rule last year.

However, some pharmacy groups oppose the suggested change, fearing it will make them liable for translating mistakes and increase the cost of malpractice insurance.

"If the label is translated into Russian and there's an error, and I'm a pharmacist that does not speak Russian, I cannot verify that that error exists," says Brian Warren, of the California Pharmacists Association. "It's an expense that will ultimately make its way down to consumers…. And like all other health care costs, will eventually result in higher premiums."

Others fear that mandating the translated labels would require larger pill bottles that patients do not like, which might make it more likely that patients will separate the drugs from the container and the instructions.  

Presently, translations of basic instructions in five languages (Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese) are included on CSBOP’s website. Additionally, pharmacies are required to provide interpreters when requested, either in person or by phone.

 

Those pushing for label translations don’t believe that’s sufficient. “I know it is expensive and it is complicated, but it is more expensive not to provide the right treatment in a way that patients will comply with,” Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, told the Fresno Bee.