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Pharmacies Try To Break Down Spanish-English Barriers

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Understanding the directions on a prescription medication bottle can be confusing enough for people who read English. For the growing number of Spanish-speaking people in the Triangle, the language barrier poses a more serious problem.

Some pharmacy technicians speak Spanish fluently, like Massiel Hidalgo at Kroger pharmacy. But the language barrier that remains at many pharmacies can be dangerous.

David Work, executive director of the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy, said he has received complaints of pharmacists mixing English and Spanish in the prescription directions.

There was one incident involving a pharmacist in the western part of the state, according to Work.

"The pharmacist typed on the label the patient was supposed to take the drug once a day which is fine in English, but in Spanish once is 11," he said.

Pharmacists said many Spanish-speaking adults bring their children to act as interpreters.

"A lot of times that's their only link to the English-speaking world," said William Sutton, a local pharmacist.

Pharmacists said they hope a new poster will help bridge the gap.

If a Spanish speaker wants their directions printed in Spanish, they point to the poster, then a computer system does all the work.

"It's capable of printing out how to take the medication, the side effects, all of this in Spanish," said Sutton.

Pharmacists said it is a simple idea, so they expect it to work.

"We think it will work because it doesn't require people to converse in a different language," said Sutton.

Over-the-counter medications are also proving to be an obstacle for people who do not speak or read English. If the buyer cannot understand how to read the directions on the packaging it could be dangerous.

The board admits it is another obstacle it needs to tackle.It is the next step in making sure a misunderstanding does not lead to dangerous medicine mistakes.

The board also said they also must hire more Spanish-speaking people to work in pharmacies, so they can talk directly to patients.


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