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Spanish-Translated Medication Labels May Cause Dosage Confusion

Galvin B. Kennedy
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Partner at Kennedy Hodges LLP practicing personal injury, pharmacy error, and overtime law
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Did you know that confusing dosing instructions on prescription drug labels lead to more than a million medication errors annually throughout this nation? Shockingly, medication labels are not standardized for prescription drugs, which is part of the reason why there is so much confusion surrounding medication instructions.

Although most pharmacists provide patients with a pamphlet about drug warnings and instructions, a 2008 FDA study revealed that the majority of people don’t read the included pages because it is too long and complex. This is why most patients rely on the outside label attached to their pill bottles or other type of medication containers.

But what if the label is not so easy-to-read and understand?

Because prescription labels are written in multiple different ways, it can create confusion for patients. Not only are English prescription instructions confusing at times—leaving it open to interpretation—but directions translated into Spanish can be problematic. The biggest problem is that there is no set standard for the way directions need to be written, which makes it difficult for computer programs to translate a label from English into Spanish accurately.

While standardizing medication labels is a major concern being reviewed by authorities, Spanish-translated labels should also be a focus to prevent patients from taking the wrong medication dosage. Although pharmacists might think a direction is clear, the way directions are worded and written can be extremely confusing to patients.

For example, patients might take too much or not enough of their medication if they are confused about instructions that read, “take two pills twice daily.” To many people, this means they should take two pills per day. Instead, the directions should be written out, “take two pills in the morning and two pills in the evening.”

While many pharmacies around this nation are focusing on avoiding ambiguous and confusing directions, as well as translating a prescription into a patient’s first language, confusion is still occurring nationwide due to a lack of standardization, confusing label directions, patients’ poor reading skills, and patients who take multiple medications. Additionally, not every pharmacy translates prescriptions into different languages accurately—causing patients to misunderstand label directions.

When pharmacists don’t speak Spanish, it is hard for them to check the directions for accuracy, and computer programs that translate English into Spanish don’t always come out right. If you have been harmed due to a confusing prescription label, contact our law office for a free consultation and our free report How to Make Pharmacies Pay for Injuries Caused by Medication Errors.

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