Striving for equity in health care

Faculty of Health Sciences
Rehabilitation Sciences

By the School of Rehabilitation Sciences

Isabelle Briand-Turpin - Communications, Faculty of Health Sciences

chalkboard that reads hello bonjour
“Bonjour, hello!” Two simple, welcoming words can make all the difference at a medical appointment, but is that all there is to the active offer of French-language health care services? Definitely not. You have to take the time to figure out in which official language the person is more comfortable, and, especially, to make every effort to provide the service requested and the necessary resources in that language.

Dr. Jacinthe Savard, a professor at the School of Rehabilitation Sciences and an occupational therapist, focuses her research on official language minority communities (OLMCs). Her goal: To identify not only the challenges facing OLMCs, but also solutions that will enable Ontario Francophones to receive health care in French. 

Savard, who hails from Quebec, grasped the importance of the battle waged by Francophone minorities during the SOS Montfort crisis in 1997. She also learned over the years that when people receive health care in their second language, it can hinder the healing process. After all, studies have shown that patients who don’t receive care in their language ask fewer questions during consultations and are more likely to be misdiagnosed or to experience incidents while in hospital. 

To make a difference and bring about lasting change in health care, it’s important to start at the source. Dr. Savard and her colleagues understand this, and as a result, master’s students at the School of Rehabilitation Sciences receive a presentation on active offer—a practice instituted in 2010. Modules in the students’ courses also include vignettes that remind them to apply the active offer concept throughout their programs. This gets the students thinking about the potential impact on patients’ health and their recovery if care is not provided in their preferred language. 

Dr. Savard is continuing her research on the topic. She has been co-holder of the University of Ottawa and Institut du Savoir Montfort Research Chair on the Health of Francophones in Ontario since 2019, with Professor Louise Bouchard. The chair is currently focused on the elderly population, but its knowledge mobilization activities span all age groups. 

The time is ripe, during this Mois de la Francophonie, to talk about the challenges OLMCs face. Are you wondering just what you can do? Dr. Savard says it is important for Francophones to: 

  • Ask for service in French when they feel up to it 

  • Take steps to receive service in French, as long as it doesn’t cause undue delays 

  • Understand the nature of therapeutic relationships and the importance of receiving explanations in one’s language