A new study on health care and language indicates that immigrants in Canada's largest city may not be getting the care they need.

According to the study, published in the current issue of the Canadian Journal of Public Health, language is an enormous barrier for many newcomers, especially when it comes to communication between health-care providers and patients. 

The report says that in some instances, the language barrier is preventing patients from understanding their treatment options.

At the Immigrant Women's Health Centre on College Street in downtown Toronto, Karen Chow checks on her client. Chow is able to talk to the patient in Cantonese, a service that is unavailable in most clinics in the city.

Chow said that at other clinics and at hospitals, this Cantonese woman is mostly oblivious to what is going on around her. The problem, said Chow, is language.

"She may have a problem so she may need to bring somebody to interpret [at a clinic or hospital]. Here she doesn't need to bring anybody." 

The study says language is not just a barrier to communication and understanding. It may also prevent many immigrants from seeking the health care they need.

Kevin Pottie, the study's lead researcher, says his team looked at data collected from a Statistics Canada questionnaire.

He said the study shows many immigrants don't have health literacy. In most cases, they can't navigate the health-care system, understand health information or apply that information to their lives.

"We're concerned this could have implications on the access to health care or maybe directly on their health," he said.

Pottie is hopeful the study will lead to the implementation of translation programs to help newcomers.