Access to multilingual medication instructions at New York City pharmacies

Linda Weiss, Francesca Gany, Peri Rosenfeld, Olveen Carrasquillo, Iman Sharif, Elana Behar, Emily Ambizas, Priti Patel, Lauren Schwartz, Robert Mangione

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


An essential component of quality care for limited English proficient (LEP) patients is language access. Linguistically accessible medication instructions are particularly important, given the serious consequences of error and patient responsibility for managing often complex medication regimens on their own. Approximately 21 million people in the U.S. were LEP at the time of the 2000 census, representing a 50% increase since 1990. Little information is available on their access to comprehensible medication instructions. In an effort to address this knowledge gap, we conducted a telephone survey of 200 randomly selected NYC pharmacies. The primary focus of the survey was translation need, capacity, and practice. The majority of pharmacists reported that they had LEP patients daily (88.0%) and had the capacity to translate prescription labels (79.5%). Among pharmacies serving LEP patients on a daily basis, just 38.6% translated labels daily; 22.7% never translated. In multivariate analysis, pharmacy type (OR=4.08, 95%CI=1.55-10.74, independent versus chain pharmacies) and proportion of Spanish-speaking LEP persons in the pharmacy's census tract (OR=1.09, 95%CI=1.05-1.13 for each 1% increase in Spanish LEP population) were associated with increased label translation. Although 88.5% of the pharmacies had bilingual staff, less than half were pharmacists or pharmacy interns and thus qualified to provide medication counseling. More than 80% of the pharmacies surveyed lacked systematic methods for identifying linguistic needs and for informing patients of translation capabilities. Consistent with efforts to improve language access in other health care settings, the critical gap in language appropriate pharmacy services must be addressed to meet the needs of the nation's large and ever-growing immigrant communities. Pharmacists may require supplemental training on the need and resources for meeting the verbal and written language requirements of their LEP patients. Dispensing software with accurate translation capability and telephonic interpretation services should be utilized in pharmacies serving LEP patients. Pharmacists should post signs and make other efforts to inform patients about the language resources available to them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)742-754
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Immigrants
  • Label translation
  • Language access
  • LEP patients
  • Medical instructions
  • Pharmacists

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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