Let’s talk: breaking down barriers

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Visiting a hospital can be a stressful time for many people, whether it’s for a scheduled appointment or an unplanned trip to the Emergency Department (ED), absorbing and understanding information from health care professionals can be a lot to take in.

Now imagine having to receive medical care in a language you are not proficient in; having to make decisions and understand treatment plans.

Oak Valley Health’s Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH) is proud to serve one of the most diverse and culturally rich communities in the country with a myriad of backgrounds and languages. The largest non-English speaking languages identified in the area are Mandarin and Cantonese.

To continue providing our diverse community with an extraordinary patient experience, MSH has enhanced its language services to include onsite Mandarin and Cantonese speaking professional interpreters. MSH’s professional interpreters provide private and confidential interpretation for medical or clinical purposes such as assisting a patient to understand a diagnosis, requirements for a procedure or reviewing discharge information. MSH also has volunteer interpreters who are currently part of our Volunteer Services program. They assist with non-clinical interpretation such as helping patients find directions, look for a resource or connecting them with a department.

“Patients and their families are so appreciative of this service,” says Alice Mau, one of MSH’s onsite interpreters. “They feel less stressed and more comfortable asking questions.” What stands out the most to Alice when she’s providing interpretation services is being able to see patients understand what the doctors and nurses are saying. “Being able to express the patient’s or family’s concerns and ask questions enables them to make informed decisions on their treatment plans,” says Alice.

Physicians in the Emergency Department oftentimes need to make quick decisions, and understanding patients who don’t speak English, even with family members present, can be quite challenging. This is also true for many areas across the organization.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our challenge to communicate with patients given our restrictions for allowing loved ones to attend in person and assist with translation,” says Dr. Mateya Trinkaus, Medical Oncologist at Markham Stouffville Hospital.

“We know, based on literature that patients with cancer may only absorb 20 to 80 per cent of what their cancer specialist tells them, and this figure is all the more compromised with a language barrier.”

Interpretation by the numbers

From April to December 2021,there were close to 1,400 patient interpretation sessions totalling 28,568 minutes across 35 different areas of MSH, including 25 per cent in the ED and 10 per cent in Oncology . All of the feedback received from staff and physicians have highlighted that this service enhances their ability to provide quality care.

Patients have also expressed their gratitude in having a professional and impartial interpreter. We are continuously working to enhance the onsite interpreter program to grow and expand the languages offered.

For more information on Language Services at Oak Valley Health, please contact us at certifiedinterpreters@msh.on.ca