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According to a new research study, computer programs that pharmacists depend on to translate prescription labels are prone to potentially dangerous errors. Examples of mistakes include the translation of “once a day” into “eleven times a day”; “by mouth” into “by the little”; and “two times” into “two kiss.” Study researcher Iman Sharif with the Nemours A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children says, “We’re not going to be able to reduce disparities in care if we cannot ensure that patients know how to use their medicines. Medication errors are a huge problem and this is just one venue where this happens, and I think a really important one.” Last year, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed legislation mandating that pharmacy chains offer translated labels to customers speaking any one of the seven top foreign languages spoken in the city. The survey conducted by Sharif and Dartmouth College researcher Julia Tse looked at 286 pharmacies in the Bronx and found that 75 percent provided labels translated into Spanish. Of those pharmacies providing translations, 86 percent used a computer program to translate the labels, while 11 percent used staff members and three percent employed professional translators. A 50-percent error rate was documented in 76 of the computer-generated labels, including 32 incomplete translations and six major spelling or grammatical mistakes. Sharif says that ideally pharmacies would have professional translators on staff to make sure that the labels are translated properly. She adds that accurate translation would be greatly simplified through the standardization of how doctors write prescriptions. She believes these are two issues that should be addressed in health care reform. In the meantime, Sharif urges non-English speakers to “Ask for a professional interpreter. Don’t just accept that you don’t speak English and therefore you don’t get to have information about your medicine.”

From “Drug Label Accuracy Getting Lost in Translation”
Reuters (NY) (04/09/10) Harding, Anne
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