Misunderstandings and misdiagnosis are more common when a patient doesn’t get professional interpretation services when communicating with their health care providers, and a London, Ont., immigration agency is calling for more funding so newcomers and non-English speakers can access quality care.
The London-Middlesex Local Immigration Partnership (LMLIP) is advocating for more awareness about a need for translators for those who are seeking medical care but speak a language other than English, hoping that awareness will lead to more funding.
“There’s a concern that people come here, they’re working really hard to learn English, but in the meantime when they go to the doctor, the visits are confusing and difficult to understand,” said Carly MacArthur, a spokesperson for LMLIP.
“Medical terminology is difficult to understand in your own language, let alone in your second or third language. The answer is often to bring a neighbour or family member or friend, and that can lead to its own problems.”
People can’t access professional interpreter services on their own; instead, they go through newcomer agencies such as the London Cross Cultural Learners Centre or through health care centres such as Intercommunity Health Centre, which offers services for immigrants.
“People end up taking family or friends, and they don’t always have time to go, or it’s uncomfortable to talk about something personal when you have a family member or neighbour with you in the doctor’s office,” MacArthur said. “This is also a problem for children of newcomers because they pick up English quicker and are sometimes asked to go support their parents during a medical visit.”
The LMLIP is trying to engage directly with local health care agencies and clinics to see how to make access to professional interpreters easier for newcomers.
Pushpa Pandey is a professional interpreter with Across Languages, a translation service provider. Sometimes, people don’t know they can ask for an interpreter, or health care providers don’t know how to access one, she said.
“Some doctor’s clinics, they don’t know the details, so it would be difficult for the non-English speakers to get that. Many doctors don’t use interpretation services, and they just ask the patient to come with somebody that speaks their language, but that can be a problem.”
Pandey said more funding needs to be available so doctors’ offices can offer interpretation services to their patients.
“Awareness is really important. Especially for health services, quality is needed. Family members can’t do it,” she said. “Even culturally, there’s a lot of information about, for example, sexual health, that a family member might withhold. It’s very important to have a professional interpreter.”