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Journal highlights challenges of French patients outside Quebec

An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal examines how thousands of French-speaking Canadians living outside of Quebec are not fully comfortable discussing medical concerns with health-care providers who do not speak French, which could be impacting their overall health

An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) said more health-care providers in Canada should take additional measures to better communicate with French-speaking patients, even if it means using interpreters.

The article looks into the assertion that outside of Quebec more than one million people in Canada identify French as their first language, but that number does not match the distribution of the Francophone population across Canada in terms of the number of French-speaking physicians who can meet the linguistic needs of all their patients.  

Despite a high level of bilingualism in Canada’s Francophone population, many are not comfortable speaking English in health care settings, said the article. 

The article said the highest number of Francophones living outside of Quebec is found in Ontario. 

"Of note, researchers have found that Francophones living in Ontario have poorer health outcomes when compared with their Anglophone counterparts. For instance, they have higher rates of asthma and hypertension, are less active, have higher rates of exposure to second-hand smoke, consume fewer fruits and vegetables, and are more likely to be overweight or obese," said the article.

The article was written by Mélanie Patrie, Vanessa Morris and Danielle Barbeau-Rodrigue who is director of Francophone affairs at NOSM University in Sudbury.

The article said patients took part in a series on informal interviews with family physicians in communities that had large Francophone populations.

The article reported that many physicians used interpreters while others used a flexible dialect to communicate. Some of the more common strategies were to hire bilingual staff and to provide pamphlets and posters in French and English. The article said the use of interpreters could be regarded as a valid solution.

"Non-French-speaking physicians should consider the use of interpreters when interacting with Francophone patients,” the article states. “Formally trained interpreters can be accessed in person or virtually, and arrangements can be made through most hospitals. When such interpreters are not available, physicians should use caution when seeking other health professionals or patients’ family members to assist with interpretation as this may increase risks to both the patient and the provider because of competing interests and the illusion that adequate communication is occurring.”

The full text of the article can be found online here.

Len Gillis covers health care and mining for


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Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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