UCHealth launches program to translate prescription medication labels into 26 languages

New service improves medication literacy for thousands of non-English-speaking Coloradans
April 4, 2023
UCHealth recently launched a program to translate prescription medication labels in more than two dozen languages. Photo: Getty Images.
UCHealth recently launched a program that allows patients to choose translated prescription medication labels in more than two dozen languages. Photo: Getty Images.

UCHealth recently launched a program to translate certain prescription medication labels into more than two dozen languages, making it easier for patients who communicate in those languages to understand appropriate dosing and medication usage.

Some of the 26 languages available for translation, for prescriptions filled at an onsite UCHealth pharmacy, include Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Korean, Vietnamese, Amharic, French, Polish, Chinese, Nepali and Somali. Having access to these translations allows more than 90% of UCHealth patients with limited English proficiency the opportunity to better understand prescription instructions, improving safety and patient outcomes.

“Providing medication label instructions in a patient’s preferred language supports our mission to improve lives. Ensuring that patients clearly understand how to take their medications impacts their medication adherence, particularly given the importance of medications in treatment of chronic conditions,” said Amy Gutierrez, UCHealth’s chief pharmacy officer.

Nearly half (47.2%) of all Coloradans take at least one prescription medication, according to the Colorado Health Institute. While some short-term prescriptions are used to treat acute illnesses, like influenza, a majority of the time prescription medications are used long term to manage life-altering chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and depression. Having access to translated prescription medication labels, especially when someone has more than one prescription, helps avoid confusion, increase health literacy, and ensure vulnerable patients receive appropriate doses.

“A recent study of parents with limited English proficiency showed they were twice as likely as English-speaking parents to make mistakes giving liquid medications to their children. Another study showed patients with limited English proficiency had lower medication-related self-efficacy scores, putting them at greater risk for medication errors,” said Scott Suckow, director of language services at UCHealth.

Translated prescription medications became available in February at all UCHealth pharmacies, including UCHealth’s mail delivery pharmacy. UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital pharmacies are currently seeing the largest volume of translations, with Spanish being the number one language requested. In February, UCHealth pharmacies dispensed more than 2,000 prescriptions with translated labels.

“Patients with limited English proficiency often struggle to understand, remember and comply with medication instructions printed in English. This new service will help remove an important barrier to care,” Suckow said.

Submitted prescriptions will be automatically sent for translation if the patient has selected a primary language other than English in their electronic health record. For a successful translation to occur, the prescription must have an exact “SIG” (standardized information gathering) match in the database. A “SIG” is the written portion of the prescription that directs the patient on how to use the medication (i.e. “take 1 tablet by mouth twice daily for hypertension”). The database supports the most common and highest volume “SIG” patterns.

In the event a translation is unavailable, patients can speak with their provider or pharmacist through a UCHealth interpreter, provided at no cost, to ask questions and ensure they understand how to safely take their medications.