The Chicago personal injury lawyers of Passen & Powell recently wrote about a new study of Spanish-language translations provided by pharmacies to Spanish speaking patients. The study, which looked at translation services in a borough of New York City, found an error rate of nearly 50% – meaning that half of all translated prescriptions contained errors. These errors took two principle forms:
• Mistranslations, where a word or phrase was inaccurately translated; and
• “Spanglish” translations, where portions of the prescription label were translated into Spanish, while others were left in English.
Both types of errors can have extremely dangerous results. For example, the English phrase “once a day” was one of many not translated into Spanish. English speakers read “once” as meaning one time, so that the untranslated phrase means one time per day. Spanish speakers, however, read “once” as eleven. When “once” is surrounded by both English and Spanish, even if a Spanish-speaking patient could understand the “a day” portion of the incomplete translation he could still read the instructions as calling for either one or eleven doses per day. It is not difficult to imagine even wrongful death resulting from such an error.
As for mistranslations, the Spanish word “poca,” meaning “little” was often used in place of the Spanish word “boca,” meaning “mouth.” Although only one letter is different, “by mouth” and “by little” have two very different meanings.
Our personal injury attorneys were already concerned, indeed angered, by this inexcusable error rate. But many readers may have wondered whether this problem really concerns them – after all, the study looked only at pharmacies in New York City, not Chicago.
Well, now we know that this problem is also present here at home. A Chicago Tribune report recently uncovered examples of exactly these types of errors right here in Chicago. For example, a Spanish-speaking mother here in Chicago was recently forced by a confusing mistranslation to make a guess as to the correct dosage of antibiotics for her eight-year-old daughter.
She guessed wrong. She knows this because the antibiotics ran out a day early, meaning she must have been giving her daughter too much. Fortunately, there do not appear to have been any ill effects from this error.
In another example, a Chicago patient failed to show improved iron levels after taking iron supplements. Upon investigation, her doctor discovered that due to a translation problem on the label she received from her pharmacy, she had been taking only one drop of the supplement each day – not one dose. In this case the mistake was caught and corrected, and the patient suffered no ill effects.
Other patients, however, may not be so lucky. The doctor who prescribed the iron supplements, who works at a health center on the Chicago’s Southwest side, said that he sees such errors every day.
A 2009 study by Northwestern University, covering a four-state area, found that 35% of pharmacies offered no translation services at all. While this figure is disheartening, perhaps it is – for now – for the best. If a pharmacy cannot provide an accurate translation, it should not provide any translation. A Spanish-speaking patient provided with an English prescription label can and likely will seek out a bilingual individual who can explain the instructions to her. Once a label is mistranslated or muddled, however, there is nothing that a layperson reading the label can do to correct the problem. This will, inevitably, lead to personal injury and wrongful death.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.