Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Dr. Joel Ray, a researcher on immigrant health at The Keenan Research Centre at St. Michael's Hospital, poses for a photo on a bridge between the research centre and the hospital in Toronto.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Gestures can go only so far when trying to find out whether a Farsi-speaking newcomer from Iran gets a burning sensation when she urinates.

But a special translation guide developed by Joel Ray offers relief: All a doctor or nurse must do is read out a question phonetically – in this case, Khoon dar edror – to the patient.

Now in use across the country, the guide is a simple tool – a computer-based list of phonetic pronunciations of medical symptoms and questions in the 15 most-spoken languages in Ontario – but it addresses a major obstacle that immigrants face when accessing health care.

Story continues below advertisement

"In the emergency department, if somebody comes in with a serious problem and there's nobody there that speaks that language," says Dr. Ray, 44, a clinician and researcher at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, "you immediately have a barrier to the information exchange that's critical to finding out what's wrong."

As Canada's immigrant population grows, he adds, delivery of health care must evolve. And that goes beyond language.

In one recent study, he identified a Caucasian bias in birth-weight standards used in most hospitals that could cause ethnic-minority newborns to be labelled as underweight. His revisions may reduce the need for unnecessary follow-ups, tests and worry among immigrant mothers.

In another study, he outlined the elevated risk for gestational diabetes for immigrant women, and called for improved ethnic classification (for example, "South Asian" instead of just "Asian") so practitioners can evaluate patients more accurately.

Doctors and nurses are on the front lines with immigrant patients, Dr. Ray says, so hospitals should be ground zero for cultural innovation.

"Universities look at 'sociology of health' rather than at health-care delivery," he says. "Hospitals should have academic research departments – that's where the research should be done."

Do you know an immigration innovator? The Globe would like to hear from you - nominate an innovator here.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies