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Jul 31, 2014 9:21 PM by LiLi Tan, KSBY News

Prescription drug labels could soon have new multi-lingual look

California lawmakers discussed translating instructions on labels for non-English speakers Thursday, in an effort to increase patient compliance and safety. But some pharmacists fear liability for botched translations could fall on them if passed.

"A patient who can't read a prescription label is already inherently at a disadvantage," said pharmacist Nataliya McElroy, of Kohana Pharmacy in San Luis Obispo. "A significant number of patients either take their medications incorrectly, double up on doses when they shouldn't because they've missed a previous dose. And there are specific medications where that can actually be very harmful."

However, the downside to passing the new law, McElroy says, is higher costs for prescription medications and language barriers on the pharmacists' part.

"If a pharmacist is checking a label in another language, that pharmacist may not speak that specific language. Therefore verifying the accuracy of that final product is going to be difficult," said McElroy, who also speaks Russian.

She estimates only about one percent of her patients would be effected by the new law if passed; however, 56 percent of Community Health Centers' patients indicate English isn't their preferred language. CHC has already accommodated by using software to translate labels into Spanish, but would have to upgrade to add other languages such as Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian, if they are even available.

The Board of Pharmacy decided to move the requirement back to a committee to work out details such as which languages to include and who would be responsible for translating them. Its next meeting will be September 18.

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