California Pharmacies to Consider Translation for Medication Bottles


When a person with LEP (Limited English Proficiency) picks up their medication from a California pharmacy, sometimes they cannot read the instruction label.  Pharmacies are required to offer oral interpretation services to provide instruction to patients, but they are not required to provide translated labeling on medication bottles.

Pharmacists resist bilingual labeling because they feel that they are unable to validate medication instructions in a language they do not speak or understand, and therefore would be held liable for any mistakes occurring in the translation.

Language access advocates feel strongly that there is greater risk to patients when they cannot read the labeling, and they promote translation of printed labels.

There is proposed legislation to require translated labeling in California.  A committee met in September to make a formal recommendation, and now the proposed statutory requirement waits for further work by a board committee before it is reviewed by the state board of pharmacy in late January.

Other states have other requirements. New York passed the Safe Rx Act in 2012, which requires pharmacy chains of eight stores or more to provide oral interpretation at the pharmacy either in person or by phone and to provide translated prescription labels in Chinese, Italian, Russian, or Spanish to non–English-speaking patients.

New York’s legislation makes sure pharmacies are not liable for third-party translation errors. While New York’s mandate only requires labels in four languages, many New York state pharmacies offer additional languages.

Some pharmacies have voluntarily offered prescription labels in different languages. Walgreens offers prescription instructions in 21 of the languages most commonly spoken in the United States, and this service is available in many states including California.

For more information on medical and healthcare translation, please visit Avantpage at We provide a full range of linguistic services for the healthcare industry.