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Tearing Down the Language Barrier For Better Patient Communication


Aldrin Tan - October 30, 2018 - 0 comments

Communication plays a vital role in healthcare. Pharmacists, especially, have one of the most high-touch positions in patients’ lives. Routine visits to the pharmacy to refill cycle prescriptions allow patients and staff to build a rapport with each other that may essentially impact their health. However, what if there is an obstacle preventing pharmacists from having a simple conversation with someone who walks into their store?

According to the 2014 Census American Community Survey, over 25 million U.S. residents struggle to speak English and, instead, rely on their native tongue. While the United States is known as a “melting pot” of cultures, the inability to communicate proves to be problematic, especially in healthcare.

Out of all 50 States, California has the highest population of non-English-speaking citizens, where more than 35% of Californians speak a language other than English, says the 2016 American Community Survey. Robina Malhotra, pharmacist-in-charge at MyMed Pharmacy, witnesses this struggle firsthand from her Fresno-based pharmacy. Along with services unique to the Fresno area like free delivery and injectable antipsychotics, Robina and her team specialize in quality customer service that helps MyMed stand out in the community. Part of this customer service includes a multilingual staff that speaks a combined total of 6 languages other than English: Spanish, Hmong, Persian, Hindi, Punjabi, and Afrikaans.

When a non-English-speaking patient first calls or walks into MyMed Pharmacy, Robina and her team immediately jump into action. “When we see them struggling to communicate, we ask them which language they speak, then we’ll figure out which staff member needs to go have a conversation with that patient,” she explains. Of course, the MyMed staff can’t cover every language, so they rely on Language Scientific to help them translate the languages they don’t know. “We build the relationship with the patient as best as we can,” Robina says. “That’s the training everyone here gets — being friendly, asking questions, and always being there for the patient.” With PioneerRx, MyMed prints labels and patient education in the language that’s best for their patients. Robina observes that her Spanish-speaking patients are the ones who request these the most. Sometimes, she and her staff even act as a liaison between patient and physician. “There’s so much happening with the doctor that they’re not always able to ask their questions,” Robina notices. “When they come to the pharmacy, they realize they can ask those questions, so we try to explain everything we can. If there are any questions we don’t have answers for, we call the physician’s office, get clarification, and relay the information back to the patient.”

For other pharmacies that serve non-English-speaking patients but don’t know how to communicate with them, Robina advises taking inventory of available tools within your pharmacy software system, available third-party services, even staff members. “When we have our staff speaking different languages, then the patients get to know them and become more comfortable,” Robina says. “When they call, they ask for that particular employee because they’ve built up that rapport over time.”

Translation services aren’t a traditional pharmacy offering, but Robina has found it to be rewarding for MyMed Pharmacy. “What’s great is when the patient walks into the pharmacy and starts speaking in their own language. You can tell they’re just more comfortable, and if you can get that patient to feel comfortable in that environment, it just makes them open up a bit more,” she reflects. As these patient relationships grow and develop, they will have more conversations with the MyMed team about their health and overall well being, which may open doors that would otherwise remain shut if language had been a barrier.  

Could your patients benefit from translation services? PioneerRx partners with innovative vendors like VUCA Health and Meducation to improve communication and health literacy amongst patients. PioneerRx also offers Machine translation, an interface that translates a patient’s dosage directions to practically any language. Click HERE to learn more.     

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