Poverty in Canada is a major health concern. Beyond the inequality and social disparity, it is now viewed by the medical community as an illness in and of itself, with an independent harm to health comparable to high blood pressure and smoking. Poverty accounts for 24% of person years of life lost in Canada (second only to 30% for cancer).
Advocates for poverty screening and treatment, like Dr. Gary Bloch, have worked together to create a valuable poverty point-of-care tool for clinicians.
As Dr. Bloch points out, many patients in poverty suffer in silence, unbeknownst to their physicians.
The key goal of this tool is to identify vulnerable patients and intervene with helpful tips that can connect patients with unclaimed benefits.
Along these lines, CognisantMD has developed a free poverty screening questionnaire that incorporates the standardized screening question: “Do you ever have difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month?”. (This question has a sensitivity of 98% and a specificity of 64% for patients living below the poverty line.)
For patients screening positive, the questionnaire proceeds to ask a number of questions that assist patients in applying for benefits that may be eligible under the Canadian government’s website for social assistance, canadabenefits.gc.ca.
Clinicians can take advantage of this screening tool using the online site or on the OceanWave tablet for widespread screening in the waiting room.
Public Health Agency of Canada, Social Determinants of Health,www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ph-sp/
determinants/determinants-eng. php, last updated June 2003.
Wilkins R, Berthelot J-M, Ng E. Trends in mortality by neighbourhood income in urban Canada from1971 to 1996. Health Reports (Statistics Canada). 2002:13(Supplement): 10.