Why it’s imperative and a human right
This issue has both challenged and baffled us for some time! Accessing the critical and essential medication information on the print label of a prescription is simply not possible for people who are blind, deafblind or sight-impaired. Yet, overall, the retail pharmacy profession has done nothing to correct this long-standing barrier to accessible critical health information.
Pharmacists are legally required to verbally explain dosage instructions when dispensing prescription medication. While this is helpful for most sighted people, consumers who are sight-impaired struggle to independently identify the medication and its related information, particularly if they live alone and/or require several different medications.
Compounding this challenge is the fact that medications often demand special instructions (i.e., take with food, do not take with grapefruit juice, consume on a full stomach, etc.). There are also side effects, prescription refill numbers, expiry dates and other critical details made instantly and conveniently available to a sighted consumer. Like any patient, we want and need to know about the details of the medications we are prescribed.
What has been done so far
As a result of ASIC’s ongoing efforts, retail pharmacies are becoming aware of this particular challenge faced by sight-impaired consumers. Our original solution was a device known as the Talking Rx, which provided a limited amount of information in the form of an audio recording. In 2001, it seemed to be the best and most economical solution.
By 2010, we began to promote newer technology manufactured by En-Vision America, known as the ScripTalk Reader. This technology was capable of providing more detailed medication information in the form of a small, inexpensive radio-frequency identification (RFID) label affixed to the bottom of a prescription bottle. These labels can also be affixed to an over-the-counter (OTC) medication package.
Once encoded by the pharmacist, the RFID label contains:
- Patient’s name
- Name of medication and strength
- Dosage instructions
- Prescribing doctor’s name
- Refills remaining
- Dispensing date
- Potential side effects and much more
All of the information encoded on an RFID label is read aloud simply by placing the prescription bottle on the ScripTalk Reader, and pressing a button.
As added bonuses, ScripTalk Readers are available at no-cost to the user, come in multiple languages, and are also very helpful for people with print disabilities (i.e., people with dyslexia or significant learning challenges).
Who is currently providing what
The Overwaitea Food Group (a BC/Alberta-based supermarket chain with in-store pharmacy outlets), Peoples Drug Mart and London Drugs (throughout Western Canada) are offering accessible prescription information via Envision America’s ScripTalk Reader. However, we are severely disappointed that each of these pharmacy chains is encoding RFID labels from a centralized distribution point. Shipping encoded labels from a central source to pharmacy outlets all over the province takes up to 6 days – or longer.
Barriers to a healthy and fair experience
A six-day or more delay in providing an accessible prescription with an encoded RFID label is unacceptable as a consumer health risk. Sight-impaired consumers may also be required to return to the pharmacy a second time to obtain their prescription, a feat that may not be easily achieved under personal circumstances. And often, they’ve been instructed to begin new prescription regimens immediately, in the face of a new acute medical condition.
If left with no other choice, sight-impaired consumers may feel forced to take the inaccessible prescription home and try to remember all of the pharmacist’s verbal instructions and warnings, while feeling vulnerable to misidentifying the medication if sighted assistance is not available.
Sight-impaired consumers are clearly being treated differently than sighted consumers, who obtain their prescriptions in an acceptable, timely manner – which usually means 30 minutes or perhaps a couple of hours’ wait-time.
Some good news
Monetarily-speaking, we have received reports from community members who have been asked to pay up to $3.00 per encoded RFID label, specifically by the pharmacies within the Overwaitea Food Group. This cost was perceived as unfair, and in many cases cost-prohibitive given that many sight-impaired consumers are living on fixed incomes. Thanks to ASIC’s efforts, the Overwaitea Food Group has corrected this practice as of April 01 2015 – and is no longer charging for encoded RFID labels.
ASIC’s commitment to the right course
It’s ASIC’s position that failing to provide accessible medication information in an accessible format is a violation under the BC Human Rights Code. ASIC is currently working with legal counsel to correct this violation made by the offending pharmacies.