LanguageLine Blog

Pharmacy Regulation for Language Access Service

Written by Suzy duMont-Perez | March 12, 2015

Pharmacies across the country serve an increasingly diverse public with more languages represented than ever before. One recent study indicated the Hispanic population alone accounts for over $23 billion in prescription drug sales in the United States annually. Every pharmacy should make offering these customers the best service a high priority.

Good service goes far beyond simply fulfilling a prescription. In a busy pharmacy, language barriers can cause not only stress and delays in filling necessary orders, but confusion and risk to patients, as well as the pharmacy and its reputation. Patients must completely understand the important dosage, warning and follow-up instructions that come with a prescription, and pharmacies must be certain that these instructions are absolutely clear. This has become a matter for lawmakers as well.

In recent years, states and the federal government have been cracking down on pharmacies that fail to comply with state and federal requirements to provide language access for Limited English Proficient (LEP) and deaf and hard of hearing patients.

There are many requirements, consequences for failing to comply, as well as solutions for pharmacies seeking to expand their business among this growing population.

Language Access Requirements for Pharmacies

Pharmacies receiving federal financial assistance, such as Medicare and Medicaid funding, are required to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to their programs by LEP beneficiaries. This requirement was established under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In practical terms, pharmacies must provide LEP patients/customers with access to a qualified interpreter and translated prescription labels and instructions to ensure a language barrier doesn't get in the way of effective communication.

Pharmacies are also required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 by ensuring individuals with disabilities, such as those who are deaf and hard of hearing, are able to access needed services by means of “auxiliary aids and services.” According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), examples of auxiliary aids and services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals include qualified on-site interpreters or video remote interpreting (VRI) services.

Several states also have language access requirements aimed specifically at pharmacies. For example, New York passed the SafeRx Pharmacy Translation Regulations in 2012 and they went into effect in March of 2013. This law requires pharmacies to “provide free, competent oral interpretation services and translation services of prescription medication labels, warning labels and other written material to each LEP individual filling a prescription at such covered pharmacy”.

This requirement came as a result of a settlement agreement in a civil rights complaint which advocacy organizations filed against pharmacies on behalf of LEP patients. The agreement required select pharmacies across the state to make translated prescription labels available in the six languages most commonly spoken in the state and to ensure that customers receive medication counseling in their primary language (Office of Attorney General 2008).

Your Pharmacy's Best Options for Compliance

Today, pharmacies are providing language access services through a number of different ways, including bilingual staff, multilingual signage, and translation of prescription medication labels and information sheets.

Short of having a staff member who speaks every potential language your customers may require, however, one of the fastest and most effective options available to you is a skilled professional interpreter specially trained in medical terminology that's only a phone call away.

For a more detailed explanation of what language access solutions are available specifically for pharmacies: