Doctor hopes new app will help Inuit access medical care in Quebec 

The Tukisiutik smartphone app provides medical terminology in Inuktitut, French and English 

A new smartphone app called Tukisiutipromises to help Inuit from Nunavik and medical practitioners understand each other better. 

Healthcare workers and Inuktitut speakers from Nunavik, Inuit territory in northern Quebec, contributed to a digital glossary of medical terminology in Inutkitut, French and English.  

With a few clicks, patients can identify body parts, symptoms and pain levels in the three languages – both in written and audio format. 

The app also has common phrases for healthcare workers and patients to communicate, like “Does it hurt?”, “Take deep breaths” and “I will request an X-ray.”   

Dr. Nathalie Boulanger says the patients speak mostly Inuktitut – with English as a second language – and healthcare workers speak mostly French or English. So there can be critical miscommunication when an interpreter isn’t available. 

Urgent care

“Often, at night, someone doesn’t feel well, especially Elders or little kids, who don’t speak a word of French or English,” she said. (They’ll) show up at urgent care and then it’s difficult to say what’s happening exactly.

“You can point to your abdomen, but is it the intestines, diarrhea, the liver? So we kind of ended up going about it with our eyes closed.”

Boulanger, with three decades of medical experience, helped come up with the idea of the Tukisiutik app.

“I put myself in the place of the patient, and I think I would feel a little more reassured if I was able to convey part of what I want to say and make sure the person I’m telling it to understands exactly what I’m trying to say.”

While the diagnostic tools are basic for now, Boulanger said she hopes the app will evolve. 

Building on it 

“There’s nothing stopping us from building on it,” she said, “and to have other categories that will help us with concepts that are a little bit more complicated, like cancer, for example, or explaining what’s happening with your child in urgent care.”

The app was spearheaded by the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services with financial support from Health Canada and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. 

Currently, the app is only available on the Apple app store. 

Boulanger says she hopes other health boards follow Nunavik’s lead for other Indigenous languages, including other dialects of Inuktitut spoken out west.    

“The further north you get, the more (Indigenous) languages are spoken, so to me, it would be fun if people would be inspired and we’d be very happy to be copied,” she said.  

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