Communication barriers in counselling foreign-language patients in public pharmacies: threats to patient safety?

Int J Clin Pharm. 2012 Oct;34(5):765-72. doi: 10.1007/s11096-012-9674-7. Epub 2012 Jul 21.


Background: Foreign-language (FL) patients are at increased risk for adverse drug events. Evidence regarding communication barriers and the safety of pharmaceutical care of FL patients in European countries is scarce despite large migrant populations.

Objective: To investigate Swiss public pharmacists' experiences and current practices in counselling FL patients with a focus on patient safety.

Method: In a cross-sectional study heads of public pharmacies in Switzerland were surveyed using an electronic questionnaire.

Main outcome measure: The survey assessed the frequency of communication barriers encountered in medication counselling of FL patients, perceptions of risks for adverse drug events, satisfaction with the quality of counselling provided to FL patients, current strategies to reduce risks, and preferences towards tools to improve safety for FL patients.

Results: 498 pharmacists completed the survey (43 % response rate). More than every second pharmacist reported at least weekly encounters at which they cannot provide good medication counselling to FL patients in the regional Swiss language. Ad-hoc interpreting by minors is also common at a considerable number of pharmacies (26.5 % reported at least one weekly occurrence). Approximately 10 % of pharmacies reported that they fail at least weekly to explain the essentials of drug therapy (e.g. dosing of children's medications) to FL patients. 79.8 % perceived the risk of FL patients for adverse drug events to be somewhat or much higher compared to other patients. 22.5 % of pharmacists reported being concerned at least monthly about medication safety when FL patients leave their pharmacy. However, the majority of pharmacists were satisfied with the quality of care provided to FL patients in their pharmacy [78.6 % (very) satisfied]. The main strategy used to improve counselling for FL patients was the employment of multilingual staff. Participants would use software for printing foreign-language labels (41.2 %) and multilingual package inserts (42.0 %) if these were available.

Conclusion: Communication barriers with FL patients are frequent in Swiss pharmacies and pharmacists perceive FL patients to be at increased risk for adverse drug events. Development and dissemination of communication tools are needed to support pharmacists in counselling of a diverse migrant population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Community Pharmacy Services / standards*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / ethnology
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multilingualism*
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods
  • Patient Education as Topic / standards*
  • Patient Safety / standards*
  • Pharmacists / standards*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / standards
  • Switzerland / ethnology