U.S. Pharmacist: Viewpoints - May, 2003
There is a lot of emphasis on "System Errors" as a major cause of medication errors. However, one significant cause of errors is the fact that many patients have a limited understanding of English. It seems so obvious: If a patient cannot fully read or understand English, how can he or she possibly follow directions to take the medicine correctly. TransPerfect Translations, a New York-based company that provides translations services, recently conducted a survey to determine just how serious the problem is. According to this survey of 592 people for whom English is non-existent or is a second language, nearly one child in 10 in families with poor language skills was found to take prescription medications incorrectly. There simply was no one in the family who could comprehend the medication's directions. The survey noted that 33% of respondents left their doctor's office without being clear about their medications because of a language barrier. "Because persons who do not speak or read English well did not totally understand the things that should not be done when taking drugs, 17% performed an activity they shouldn't have while on their medication," said a company spokesperson.
The survey found that half of Spanish-speaking participants said they had difficulty understanding how to properly take a prescription drug. Misunderstanding the proper dosage was a common problem for 10%, who complained they did not know how much medication they were supposed to take. To illustrate the nuances involved in comprehending language, 9% said they didn't fully understand the phrase "before, with, or after meals." A recent article in The New York Times, written by a physician, discussed how difficult it is to get certain medical concepts across to patients who are not fluent in English. But even if one has fluency in a foreign language, words may not have the same meaning to everybody. "When translating, the translator must be an expert not only in the language but also in the subject matter, in this case the field of medicine," said a TransPerfect spokesperson. "You can't simply use a bright language student or doctor's assistant who may be bilingual. If you do, you are putting the patient at risk." Many people are too embarrassed to admit that they cannot understand English. We're not suggesting you hire a technician to translate your counseling into a patient's native language. But poor English language skills are just another of the barriers that complicate good professional practice.
—Allen Schwartz, MS, Executive Editor
With revenue of over $250 million, TransPerfect is the largest privately held language services provider in the world. From offices in 66 cities on 5 continents, TransPerfect offers a full range of services in over 100 languages to multinationals worldwide. With a global network of over 4,000 linguists and subject-area specialists, TransPerfect is the largest translation company to be fully ISO 9001:2008 and EN 15038:2006 certified. TransPerfect is headquartered in New York and has regional headquarters in London and Hong Kong. For more information, please visit our website at www.transperfect.com.