Methods to Reduce Medication Errors and Improve Medication Adherence Among Elderly Patients Facing a Language Barrier




Hanan, Nicholas L.


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A significant and growing portion of the population of the United States is of limited English proficiency (LEP). In healthcare, LEP patients are a high-risk group for adverse medical events. Elderly patients are also a high-risk group and often take multiple medications, and when the two groups are combined it can create a potentially dangerous situation for the patient. This study searched for methods to reduce these adverse medical events and improve medication adherence. A total of 42 references were reviewed to find that most commonly, the only resources that physicians have to communicate LEP patients is a trained medical interpreter and on occasion, a few translated documents in the patient's native language. While the prevalence of medical interpreters has been rising, even with a trained interpreter LEP patients generally have worse clinical outcomes and lesser satisfaction than patients who see a language-concordant physician. Physicians can take additional steps such as learning how to most effectively utilize interpreters and employing visual aids and the teach back method to improve direct patient care. They can also take steps outside of the patient-provider interaction to improve care, such as ensuring that patients take notes and review them when it is time to take their medications and advocating the use of resources like internet portals for scheduling appointments and refilling medications. While the healthcare system in the United States has made good progress in making medical interpreters and medication instructions in other languages more accessible, there is still much work to be done in this field to ensure that LEP patients receive the care that they deserve.