Immigrant women hurt by barriers to health care: Study

Posted on April 1, 2010 in Health Debates

Source: — Authors: – Health
March 30, 2010.   Nicholas Keung,  IMMIGRATION REPORTER

Language issues and a lack of knowledge as to how the health system works are stopping some immigrant women from getting medical help.

Rabah Mohamadi, an immigrant from Kabul, was without a family doctor for four months upon her arrival from Afghanistan last year; the mother of four ended up using a neighbour’s glucose machine to measure her blood sugar and sharing the friend’s diabetes medications and pills for a cervical cyst.

“It’s harder to see a doctor in Canada than in Afghanistan,” the 45-year-old Toronto woman said through a Dari-speaking interpreter. “It takes ages to get an appointment. I finally found a Farsi-speaking doctor from Iran. Even though I only speak Dari, I can at least understand a bit of what the doctor says.”

Difficulty finding a doctor was one of the issues highlighted in the joint study by St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences.

Mohamadi’s experience is not unique. According to the study, fifteen per cent of immigrants who had been here for less than five years said they don’t have a family doctor, more than double the rate for Canadian-born men and women.

“Some of them would not need to go to the emergency if they could get to a doctor’s office,” said lead researcher Arlene Bierman. “The country’s visible minority population will double by 2031, with South Asians forming the largest visible minority group. We need to be able to better serve the growing health-care needs of this community and reduce barriers.”

Researchers analyzed data from a number of sources, including those from local health integration networks, to look at gaps and inequities among different demographic groups in a pool of 8,800 women and 6,500 men in the province.

Satisfaction with the care received varied by income, ethnicity, time since immigration and language spoken most often at home.

While six out of 10 Ontarians were “very satisfied” with their experience getting an appointment for a regular check-up, less than half of Asians and Arab adults reported being happy with their ability to get an appointment.

Access to dental care, an area not covered by OHIP, was another concern, said Bierman.

Overall, 30 per cent of women and 35 per cent of men had not seen a dentist in the last year; the percentage went up to 50 per cent for those in low income. More than half of South and West Asian or Arab women had not visited a dentist in the previous 12 months, compared to only one quarter of white women.

“Oral health goes with physical health. Poor oral health can lead to other infections and heart disease,” said Bierman, adding that the lack of access to dental care may result in unnecessary use of the emergency department.

Given the country’s ethnic diversity, Bierman said there’s a need for Canada to adopt the National Standards on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS), a list of service criteria in cultural competency and accessibility to be met by health service providers in order to get funding from the United States health department.

“There are many concrete things (health service providers) can do. There are a lot of good practices out there. Many people have already done the work and they don’t have to reinvent the wheels,” said Bierman.

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