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Bill awaiting governor’s signature creates hope for visually impaired people managing medications – Greeley Tribune

FILE – Pharmaceuticals are seen in North Andover, Mass., June 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

Prescription labels can present difficulties among blind and visually impaired Coloradans in understanding a medication’s dosage and frequency, leading to dangerous health concerns.

Colorado lawmakers in early May passed a bill to require prescription drug labels to be more accessible to blind and visually impaired Coloradans. The bill, House Bill 24-1115, awaits a signature from Gov. Jared Polis.

Prescription labels provide crucial information that helps patients safely and effectively take medication. One of the bill’s prime sponsors, state Rep. Mary Young said visually impaired people deserve to have this information shared with them in a way they can understand. Young represents the people of House District 50 in Greeley, Evans and Garden City.

Under the bill, pharmacies must provide blind and vision-impaired Coloradans access to prescription drug label information through several accessible alternatives.

This information must be provided by “an electronic label affixed to the prescription drug container that transmits the prescription drug’s label information … to an end user’s external accessible device, including an individual’s compatible prescription drug reader.”

Upon request, pharmacies must also provide a patient with a prescription drug label in braille or large print, or with a method recommended by the United States Access Board.

Pharmacies commonly use a technology called ScripTalk to give patients audible prescription information, such as drug name, dosage, instructions, warnings and more. Pharmacies place the electronic label on the medication container that relays information to a ScripTalk station at the location. Patients can also download the ScripTalk app on their cellphones to hear their prescription details.

Since October, UCHealth has offered ScripTalk at the University of Colorado Hospital, where there’s a high need for accessible services due to a vision clinic on-site, according to Amy Guitierrez, UCHealth’s chief pharmacy officer. UCHealth has also implemented the technology at a centralized mail-order pharmacy in an effort to achieve more consistency across the system.

“We need to be accessible to all of our patients, regardless of their language capabilities or their vision capabilities,” Guitierrez said. “So anything we can do to help bridge that gap to help them take their medications and stay healthy is something that falls under our mission and vision for the organization.”

UCHealth already offers translated labels in more than 20 languages for patients at its retail pharmacies. In July, UCHealth will begin offering translations in other languages besides English with the ScripTalk technology.

Occupational therapists at Ensight’s Curtis Strong Center in Greeley, a hub that offers low vision services to eastern Colorado residents, frequently address medication management among patients, said Melody Bettenhausen, the center’s chief operations officer. In addition to occupational therapy, the Curtis Strong Center offers vision rehabilitation, optometry orientation and mobility services to visually impaired people.

Bettenhausen said the small print on prescription labels, pills and paperwork associated with medication leads to patients misusing prescriptions, posing a danger to them. This can cause people to overdose or underdose their prescribed medications, she said, resulting in death or illness.

“The inaccessibility of this information can lead to negative health consequences and prevents Coloradans with disabilities from having agency over their health care,” Young said. “With this legislation, we’re ensuring that prescription labels will be accessible to visually and print-impaired and blind Coloradans.”

The legislation aims to make medication management more accessible and safer, while also creating more independence for blind or vision- and print-impaired people, Bettenhausen added. The legislation helps people to manage their medications themselves rather than worrying about the financial burden of hiring in-home health care help to ensure the safe consumption and efficiency of medication.

“When you’re losing vision, you start to lose a lot of different things,” Bettenhausen said. “We want their quality of life to be what they deserve it to be, and independence is a big part of that.”

The legislation also enables parents and caretakers to administer medications safely, Young said.

Bettenhausen said several Colorado pharmacies have already implemented accessible prescription labels for blind or visually impaired Coloradans. Colorado law, however, hasn’t required prescription label information to be readily available and accessible to those who have difficulty seeing or reading standard printed labels, according to state Rep. Junie Joseph, another prime sponsor of the bill.

This means, according to Bettenhausen, that pharmacies could bring in one of the several methods temporarily and decide to get rid of the accessible alternative if not enough patients utilized it. The legislation guarantees mandatory prescription drug label accessibility by requiring pharmacies to provide a prescription drug reader at no cost to patients.

Lawmakers worked closely with pharmacies on cost concerns due to many requests for flexibility to ensure meeting the bill’s requirements, Young said. She said the bill created a grant program to assist smaller, independent pharmacies with paying for needed equipment.

The legislation also offers exceptions for smaller pharmacies with only one pharmacist. It allows companies to ask the Colorado State Board of Pharmacy for an exemption if they believe complying will greatly burden their business.

Pharmacies have 28 days to provide access upon a patient’s request for one of the accessible methods, if not yet provided for other patients. Non-compliant pharmacies could be sued for disability discrimination by Colorado patients.

Bettenhausen backs the legislation and its sponsors’ efforts to be proactive about the increasing number of people with vision loss. Though the aging population isn’t the only group that becomes blind or visually impaired, it’s the greatest population experiencing vision loss. And the number of people who experience vision loss continues to grow.

“This is an excellent bill,” Bettenhausen said. “These individuals who are fighting for this … they are working toward change for an ever-growing population.”

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