Knowing how to take prescription medications safely is incredibly important—especially for people who are limited English proficient (LEP) or have other difficulties understanding prescription medication labels. New York recently passed landmark SafeRx legislation that will greatly increase many New Yorkers’ access to prescription medication. Under SafeRx, prescription pads will have to reflect a patient’s language preference and medication labels will become more patient-friendly. Pharmacies will be required to provide translation and interpretation services to LEP consumers. But while the passage of SafeRx represents a huge victory, we still have more work to do.
The law will go into full effect in late March of 2013. The New York State Board of Pharmacy (SBOP) is currently in the process of drafting recommendations for the implementation of the legislation. Unfortunately, the SBOP has failed to include stakeholders—advocates and LEP consumers—in the process. The SBOP has yet to schedule even one formal public hearing at which advocates and consumers can provide input on how to best implement the new law. Only one informal meeting has been mentioned, but not scheduled—and it’s in Buffalo. Not exactly an easy trip to make for many people around the state.
In response to the limited opportunities for stakeholder engagement, members of the SafeRx Coalition have published a report which discusses several key recommendations for the implementation of SafeRx legislation. (You can also read the accompanying cover letter to the SBOP here.) Through our recommendations, we hope to balance the interests of consumers and the pharmacy industry alike, while still meeting the health needs of New Yorkers.
Here’s a quick rundown of our recommendations:
Determine Pharmacy Primary Languages Fairly
Rather than selecting languages based on whether or not 1% of the general population speaks a given language, SBOP should require translation services in the top seven languages spoken throughout the state. This approach ensures that a uniform standard is applied statewide.
Standardize Prescription Labels
Prescription labels should be patient-centered. Labels should have clear directions, written in simple and large fonts.
Notify Patients of Their Rights
A Patient Bill of Rights should be translated into the selected languages and shared with consumers on pharmacy websites, in stores, and through other outreach.
Include Mail Order Pharmacies
Those count, too! Resources should be dedicated to assessing the language access needs of consumers who use mail order pharmacies and the services that these pharmacies currently provide. In fact, many mail order pharmacies actually have already begun providing language services.
Eliminate the Waiver Option
As the legislation stands now, pharmacies have the ability to opt-out of the requirement to provide language assistance services. But the whole point of the SafeRx campaign is that pharmacies have a federal obligation to do so. Pharmacies shouldn’t be given the ability to dodge their legal responsibilities.
Promote Liability & Accountability
SBOP should implement a plan to monitor and assess pharmacies’ compliance with the law.
Modify Prescription Pads
The NYS prescription pad should be revised to reflect if a patient is LEP and, if so, what the primary language spoken is.
If implemented correctly, SafeRx could improve business for pharmacies by improving customer service and consumer loyalty. For the healthcare system as a whole, SafeRx could dramatically reduce the 700,000 emergency room visits and 100,000 hospitalizations that occur every year when patients misunderstand how to take prescription meds [i]—saving the healthcare system over 3 billion dollars per year overall. [ii]
With millions of New Yorkers who stand to benefit and millions of dollars to be saved, there’s no reason for the SBOP not to get on board with our recommendations. And with the clock ticking toward when the legislation will take effect, the time to do so is now.
[i] Daniel Budnitz, et al., National Surveillance of Emergency Department Visits for Outpatient Adverse Drug Events, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 2006; 296 (15):1858-1866.
[ii] William Shrank, et al., Educating Patients About Their Medications: The Potential and Limitations of Written Drug Information, Health Affairs, 2007; 26 (3):731-40.