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Study Finds Translation Problems on Prescription Labels

  • April 30, 2010
  • RPh on the Go

A recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics concluded that translated prescription labels often contain serious errors. The study took place in New York where pharmacies are required to translate labels into any of the seven most commonly spoken languages in the city. The translation law was implemented in 2009 since nearly half of the population of New York speaks a language other than English at home.
The study reported that almost 90 percent of pharmacies use computer programs to translate the medication labels for consumers. The remainder use employees and a very small percentage use professional interpreters. Of those using the computer programs, several sample labels used in the study were found to contain serious errors. The most potentially dangerous error was a common translation of the term “once a day” into Spanish that read “eleven times a day”.
So far one case has been reported of a man who took his blood pressure medication eleven times in one day rather than just once. The authors of the study suggested improvement of the computer translation program as well as a mandatory review by pharmacy personnel to catch any errors before patients pick up their prescriptions.


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