Impact of Language Barriers on Outcomes and Experience of COVID-19 Patients Hospitalized in Quebec, Canada, During the First Wave of the Pandemic

J Immigr Minor Health. 2024 Feb;26(1):3-14. doi: 10.1007/s10903-023-01561-7. Epub 2023 Oct 30.


Language barriers (LB) contribute to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) health inequities. People with LB were more likely to be SARS-CoV-2 positive despite lower testing and had higher rates of hospitalization. Data on hospital outcomes among immigrants with LB, however, are limited. We aimed to investigate the clinical outcomes of hospitalized COVID-19 cases by LB, immigration status, ethnicity, and access to COVID-19 health information and services prior to admission. Adults with laboratory-confirmed community-acquired COVID-19 hospitalized from March 1 to June 30, 2020, at four tertiary-care hospitals in Montréal, Quebec, Canada were included. Demographics, comorbidities, immigration status, country of birth, ethnicity, presence of LB, and hospital outcomes (ICU admission and death) were obtained through a chart review. Additional socio-economic and access to care questions were obtained through a phone survey. A Fine-Gray competing risk subdistribution hazards model was used to estimate the risk of ICU admission and in-hospital death by immigrant status, region of birth and LB Among 1093 patients, 622 (56.9%) were immigrants and 101 (16.2%) of them had a LB. One third (36%) of immigrants with LB did not have access to an interpreter during hospitalization. Admission to ICU and in-hospital mortality were not significantly different between groups. Prior to admission, one third (14/41) of immigrants with LB had difficulties accessing COVID-19 information in their mother tongue and one third (9/27) of non-white immigrants with a LB had difficulties accessing COVID-19 services. Immigrants with LB were inequitably affected by the first wave of the pandemic in Quebec, Canada. In our study, a large proportion had difficulties accessing information and services related to COVID-19 prior to admission, which may have increased SARS-CoV-2 exposure and hospitalizations. After hospitalization, a large proportion did not have access to interpreters. Providing medical information and care in the language of preference of increasing diverse populations in Canada is important for promoting health equity.

Keywords: COVID-19; Foreign-born; Health Disparities; Language Barriers; Migrants; SARS-CoV-2.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Canada
  • Communication Barriers
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Quebec / epidemiology
  • SARS-CoV-2