The proposed state law, called AB 1073, is about to be sent to California Governor Jerry Brown, which will require pharmacists in the state to provide medication instructions and prescription drug labels in five languages to ease the language barrier in this highly multicultural city. If he signs it, the law will take effect on the first of January 2016.
Translation upon request
The bill would not require an across-the-board translation, though, but rather the pharmacists would have to provide the medication instructions as well as the labels of prescription medicine in English and upon the request of the caregiver or patient, in either Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Tagalog or Spanish language.
Once approved, California will be the second state in the U.S. after New York to call for pharmacists to have non-English speaking patients receive handouts and other information related to their health needs in a language they fully understand. In California, the law would apply to pharmacies of all sizes across the state, whereas in New York, the law only affects those pharmacy chains that have more than eight outlets.
Supporter of the bill, Sarah de Guia, who is the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network executive director, said that they hope this measure would help save lives and improve the patients’ following of their medical regimen. Ms. De Guia added that this law would help patients with limited or no English language skills to correctly take their medications. As of the latest count, there are about 6.8 million residents in California, which represent about 20 percent of the state’s total population, who have limited skills in the English language.
Ahead of the state law
Even if the state law has not been signed yet, there have been efforts by different groups to help non-English speaking residents in California. There are already some pharmacies in the state that provide translated medication instructions and prescription labels. One other bill supporter, the California Board of Pharmacy had been requiring pharmacies to provide free interpreting services when requested by a consumer at the pharmacy counter.
One such pharmacy is CVS, which already provides medication instructions in English and 15 other languages and also offers translation via phone in over 150 languages.
Although it is assumed that there will be no opposition to AB 1073, there were bills proposed in the past similar to the current one that were stalled. This was because pharmacists were worried about the impact should the medication instructions and prescription labels have incorrect translation. However, California Board of Pharmacy executive director, Virginia Herold said that this time, the pharmacists have more oversight and flexibility in the development of translated medical information.
There was a state law in 2007 that mandated the California Board of Pharmacy to have prescription labels that are friendly to patients and they responded by providing translations in five languages although its implementation was not explicit. Current data on its application is scarce and while the California Board of Pharmacy’s own survey said that about 70 percent of pharmacies complied with the 2007 law, they were unable to verify the accuracy of their translation.