Language barriers to prescriptions for patients with limited english proficiency: A survey of pharmacies

Michael Bradshaw, Sandra Tomany-Korman, Glenn Flores

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

BACKGROUND. Twenty-three million Americans have limited English proficiency. Language barriers can have major adverse consequences in health care, but little is known about whether pharmacies provide adequate care to patients with limited English proficiency. OBJECTIVES. We sought to evaluate pharmacies' ability to provide non-English-language prescription labels, information packets, and verbal communication, and assess pharmacies' satisfaction with communication with patients who have limited English proficiency. METHODS. We used a cross-sectional, mixed-methods survey of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, pharmacies. Survey questions addressed sociodemographic and language-service characteristics of pharmacies. A pharmacist or technician at each pharmacy was asked 45 questions by telephone, fax, or mail. The main outcome measures were the ability of pharmacies to provide non-English-language prescription labels, information packets, and verbal communication; and pharmacy satisfaction with communication with patients who have limited English proficiency. RESULTS. Of 175 pharmacies, 73% responded. Forty-seven percent of the pharmacies never/only sometimes can print non-English-language prescription labels, 54% never/only sometimes can prepare non-English-language information packets, and 64% never/only sometimes can verbally communicate in non-English languages. Eleven percent use patients' family members/friends to interpret. Only 55% were satisfied with their communication with patients who have limited English proficiency. In multivariate analyses, community pharmacies had significantly lower odds of being able to verbally communicate in non-English languages, whereas pharmacies using telephone interpreting services had significantly higher odds. Pharmacies' suggestions for improving patient communication included continuing education, producing a chain-wide list of resources, hiring bilingual staff, using telephone interpreters, analyzing translation quality/accuracy of labels and information packets, and adding more languages to pharmacy software. CONCLUSIONS. Approximately half of Milwaukee pharmacies never/only sometimes can provide non-English-language prescription labels or information packets, and approximately two thirds never/only sometimes can verbally communicate in non-English languages. One in 9 pharmacies that verbally communicate in non-English languages use patients' family members/friends to interpret. Almost half of the pharmacies are dissatisfied with their communication with patients who have limited English proficiency. Community pharmacies are less likely and pharmacies using telephone interpreting services are more likely to be able to verbally communicate in non-English languages. Study findings indicate that improvements in pharmacies' communication with patients who have limited English proficiency may result by increasing the quality and number of non-English languages in existing computer programs, hiring bilingual staff, and using telephone interpreting services when in-person interpreters are unavailable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPediatrics
Volume120
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2007

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Keywords

  • Health disparities
  • Health services accessibility
  • Language or communication barriers
  • Language services
  • Limited English proficiency
  • Pharmacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

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