Every Saturday morning, a steady stream of Chinese and Vietnamese patients line up at the Paul Hom Asian Clinic in Sacramento, Calif. Most of them speak little to no English.
Patient assistance director Danny Tao says people come here to get free medical consultations and drug prescriptions. But, he says that when patients take those prescriptions to be filled, they don’t understand the instructions on the label.
“They go pick them up, and we don’t exactly know if they’re taking it or not — or if they know how to take it,” Tao said.
Tao says drug labels at most pharmacies in California are printed only in English. That puts patients in danger of making any number of errors — taking too much medication or not enough, taking it at the wrong time of day or with the wrong food. Such mistakes can cause serious harm or even death.
Tao says that for the drugs his clinic supplies directly, all have a bilingual label.
“It’s going to be English/Chinese or English/Vietnamese,” he said. “By the time they get home they know exactly how to take the medication, because it’s in their own language.”
This week California’s Board of Pharmacy will discuss new regulations that would require all pharmacies in California to provide translated labels on prescription drug bottles. Statewide, 44 percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home. New York approved a similar rule last year to make it easier for non-English speakers to take their medications properly and avoid costly mistakes.
But the California board’s executive officer Virginia Herold says the move is very controversial. For starters, there is a concern that bilingual labels would mean larger bottles of pills to fit all the text. Patients, she says, don’t like larger bottles.