Let’s Talk: Language Barriers in Health Care
Have you ever had difficulty reading a medication label, describing symptoms to your doctor or understanding instructions from a health care provider? If not, you’re likely fluent in English, and language isn’t a problem when you access health services. But imagine, for a moment, needing medical help in a country where you don’t read or speak the language. How might that affect your quality of care?
Many people in Canada face language barriers when accessing health care: immigrants and refugees, Indigenous people, and speakers of English or French who are in the language minority where they live. In addition, people who live with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia often have difficulty understanding and using words, a condition known as aphasia. What’s less commonly known is that people with dementia who are bilingual often revert to speaking their mother tongue – adding another layer of complexity to the issue of language access.
Finding the right words
Often, language translation at doctors’ offices, hospitals and long-term care facilities falls to a patient’s family members. When they are not available, health-care workers often rely on interpreters, where provided. Caregivers may also use non-verbal communication, such as gestures or holding up handwritten cards in a patient’s primary language. These measures are helpful but not consistently available. Language barriers in health-care settings are an ongoing problem, one that’s expected to worsen as Canada’s population ages.
Diversity is our strength
One way to support patients who speak a different language is to match them with professional caregivers who share that language. At Carecor, our team is very diverse. Many of our nurses, personal support workers, patient attendants and unit aides are fluent in a second language. If an institution, patient or family member requests a caregiver who speaks a certain language, we do our best to find a match. Patients appreciate being able to converse with their caregivers, and this helps to ensure excellent quality of care.