Friday December 02, 2016

One clinic, hundreds of languages: Here's how it works

Interpreters helping refugees 1:00

Listen 8:21

Dr. Meb Rashid has the world at his fingertips. 

The family physician and medical director of the Crossroads Clinic in Toronto's Women's College Hospital  in Toronto can pick up the phone and "very quickly we can access (more than) 100 languages," he tells Dr. Brian Goldman, host of White Coat, Black Art. 

"It's incredibly rare for us not to be able to access an interpreter within half a minute to a minute," Dr. Rashid says.  

It's a vital tool for the MD, because he's running the city's first hospital-based clinic that serves newly-arrived refugees, and many don't speak fluent English. 

Abdullah is a typical patient. He arrived a few months ago from Turkey - but he's originally from war-torn Aleppo, Syria. 

Upon arrival, he was severely anemic --  something Dr. Rashid was able to bring under control. He also cares for Abdullah's wife and his five children. A sixth child is expected soon. 

"If this thing didn't exist, I don't know what we would do," Adbullah says of the clinic's interpretation service, which is provided by Remote Interpretation Ontario. (R.I.O.) 

Dr. Rashid says he was accustomed to using "live" interpreters, who attend appointments in person, but he's found some patients prefer the voice on the phone.

"As wonderful as those interpreters are, it is a body in the room, often from the same community.  When people are talking about things such as trauma, anonymity is something they are looking for," Rashid says, adding that patients may be from countries where they've experienced sexual violence or torture, which are difficult to speak about. 

Crossroads clinic

Dr. Meb Rashid, Medical Director of the Crossroads Clinic in Women's College Hospital in Toronto, consults with his Arabic-speaking patient, Abdullah, with the help of a phone interpreter. (Brian Goldman)

Either way, he says it's a big improvement over past methods,  which included using family members, friends or scouring the halls of the hospital to find a colleague with a second language.

He says the 4-5,000 Syrians who arrived in Toronto in the first wave of refugees have been well-served in their language for the most part. 

"A lot of us were scrambling to make sure they were connected to primary care. That was the challenge. The scope," he says.

Before leaving his appointment, Abullah thanks Dr. Rashid for his care. And, because he knows he's going to be heard on national radio, he seizes the opportunity to thank, by name, all the sponsors who have helped him and his family. 

Then he adds, "We thank you and all those who contribute to interpretation everywhere."