Home   >  Issues

The Importance of French-Language Health Services

A  A  A
Communication is fundamental to the helping relationship in a health-care setting.

Studies have shown that linguistic barriers are damaging to the helping relationship, and consequently, to patient health.

For Francophone clients, language is often the primary tool in health maintenance and rehabilitation. Communicating in their own language makes it easier for clients to:
  • Ask for help
  • Explain their experiences and conditions
  • Express their needs and preferences
  • Take charge of their own health

For health-care facilities, services offered in French are a key factor in service quality.
Health-care professionals able to communicate in French with Francophone clients can more easily:
  • Convey critical health information
  • Encourage clients to seek care and promote rehabilitation
  • Establish relationships that help to maintain good health over the long term

Health-care agencies that offer services in French contribute to: 
  • Improving access
  • Increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of care
  • Guaranteeing safe care
  • Achieving greater satisfaction among Francophone patients

Moreover, many studies in Canada and elsewhere have looked at language barriers that make it impossible for clients to communicate with health-care professionals in their own language. These studies demonstrate the importance of considering the impact of language barriers on the quality of health-care services for language minority communities.

To learn more: French-Language Services: A Factor in Healthcare Service Quality (Réseau, 2012)

The challenges

The situation in the province of Ontario is quite favourable to the offer of health-care services in French. Many health-care facilities, including hospitals, community health centres and long-term care facilities, are making health services available to the Francophone population.

However, access to French-language health services still faces a number of challenges. These include human resources and health-care system accountability regarding French-language services. For example:

At the Ontario health-care system level,
  • Is there continuity of service for Francophone patients between facilities and between sectors?
  • Do performance indicators consider French-language services?

At the health-care agency level,
  • Is there enough staff available to offer service in French 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
  • Are staff and management supported by policies and procedures in order to offer quality services for the Francophone population?

At the community level,
  • Do Francophone clients know enough about the availability of French-language services?
  • Do Francophones use these services regularly?

Our goal

To achieve quality health services — that is, accessible, continuous, safe and in French — all elements of the offer of services must be fully planned.

Planning is an integral part of the Réseau’s activities. It is a means to properly meet the Francophone population’s need for quality French-language health services in Eastern and South-Eastern Ontario.