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Via Merced Sun Star
When Chek Lun Wong picks up his prescription medication for hepatitis B at his local Walmart, he doesn’t understand a word.
“I give them the prescription and my license and they give it to me. I don’t read the bottle,” said Wong. “I usually just ignore it if I don’t understand it.”
The 63-year-old Wong, who told his story with the help of a Chinese translator at the Paul Hom Asian Clinic in East Sacramento last weekend, is one of thousands in the capital region and the state who struggle to take their medication correctly because of a language barrier – an issue that some health advocates want rectified at a California State Board of Pharmacy meeting later this month.
On Saturday at the free medical clinic on Folsom Boulevard, Wong waited among a steady stream of Chinese and Vietnamese patients, most of whom spoke little to no English, to get the prescription for his next refill and to listen to instructions on their use from a Chinese-speaking volunteer. Kai Ming Tan, one of the many UC Davis students who staff the clinic, often writes out directions for Wong in Chinese characters.
When Wong goes to the pharmacy to pick up his prescription bottle, labeled in English, he will rely on this information to take the drug.
“Patients need things written down,” said Tan. “If a medical student is presenting, (the patients) can’t keep it in their head. They need something written down so they have something if they go home and forget what I said.”
Currently, the California State Board of Pharmacy requires pharmacies to provide an interpreter for non-English speakers free of charge, either in person or by phone, when requested at the pharmacy counter. The board itself is required to provide written translations of basic instructions in Spanish, Korean, Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese, in addition to English, on its website. But most pharmacists will not – and are not required to – print translated labels on the bottles themselves.
At its July 31 meeting, the board will consider, among other potential changes, requiring pharmacies to do just that.
Most pharmacists believe the system in place is working, said Jon Roth, chief executive officer of the Sacramento-based California Pharmacists Association. Limited-English speakers can use a telephonic translation service to get instructions on prescription drug use, which the pharmacist calls when the customer arrives. The customer hears the instructions and can also request a fax of the translation.
Roth said most pharmacists would not feel comfortable dispensing medication in a language they do not understand, especially considering that the pharmacist would be held liable for any potential mistake in the translation.