Taking the pulse of a community through healthcare
“How does providing French-language services provide cost savings in health care?”
People often ask the Commissioner why providing French-language services is so important in health care, and then tend to follow that question with one related to the cost associated with providing French-language services. The Commissioner will never tire of explaining that not all Francophones are bilingual, and that even for those who are fully bilingual, when it comes to the need for more personal and sensitive services, the ability to use one’s first and best language is important. Communication in one’s mother tongue is instrumental when it comes to providing information about medication, allergies, health conditions, etc. Far from costing more money, providing the right service in health care at the original point of entry saves money in the long run.
The Commissioner recently heard of a new immigrant who was bilingual, but not in English; the only official language of Canada she understood was French. She went to see an English-speaking doctor but was unable to fully understand what her health condition was, and consequently did not take her prescribed medication correctly. As a direct consequence she fell ill again and required more medical help, thus doubling the cost of health care. Had she received her services in French at the point of entry, she wouldn’t have needed the additional medical help.
Unfortunately this problem is shared by many people across Ontario each and every day. While it would be impossible to provide bilingual staff all the time, there are ways to better understand the specific needs of the Francophone clientele and reallocate the scarce resources available more effectively.
• Active offer – Many Francophones are unaware that they can obtain French-language services from many health care providers, simply because there is no written or verbal statement to that effect. That is why it is essential to advertise the availability of French services through systematic “active offer”.
• Human resources – It is simply impossible to provide effective health care services in French if there is no working knowledge of French among the staff.
The health services providers must develop a human resources plan to ensure the availability of bilingual staff. The delivery of better health care to the entire Francophone population, and in fact to any population, is important in creating sustainable, healthy and strong communities, especially in an era where we are shifting to a more holistic health care model centred on prevention.