Poverty is one of the biggest risk factors for almost all the major conditions family medicine deals with on a day-to-day basis.

Kootenay Boundary doctors on poverty frontline

Poverty is one of the biggest risk factors for almost all major conditions that family medicine deals with, says Dr. Lee MacKay.

There is one glaring symptom that can lead to chronic health problems, and sometimes the medical community can overlook the signs.

Some refer to it as low socioeconomic status, often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation.

But in layman’s terms, it’s poverty.

And poverty is one of the biggest risk factors for almost all the major conditions that family medicine deals with on a day-to-day basis, says Dr. Lee MacKay, board chair for Kootenay Boundary Division of Family Practice.

Health impacts of poverty are well documented in B.C.: lung, oral and cervical cancer rates are higher in the lower income population; heart disease is 17 per cent higher among the lower income sector compared to the Canadian average; depression is 58 per cent higher in those living below the poverty line; and the incidence of diabetes, is double.

“Certainly if you look at demographics, at least 10 per cent of our population is living under the poverty line,” MacKay said, noting the current housing crisis in Nelson, the city he’s based in. “It’s difficult to afford medications and lifestyle changes if you are just barely making ends meet.”

Dr. MacKay has long championed the inclusion of poverty screening in family practice, simple questions about finances can lead to a better understanding of patients and health problems they present snippets don’t tell a full story.

“It’s just a way for doctors to recognize and validate for patients,” MacKay said. “Sometimes it’s meaningful that we are looking at the full picture of their health and not just saying, for example, that a patient is anxious and then prescribe medications. We are trying to understand that may be coming from poverty.”

Since 2015, the Kootenay Boundary division has tackled the matter head on with its Poverty Intervention Tool. By now, patients may have noted a certain question coming up during annual physicals, outside of the usual queries about medication history and habits like smoking or alcohol usage.

“The basic screening tool can be done in any encounter,” says MacKay. “For me, I do it often at periodic health visits. It’s just one of those questions I go through like allergies or changes to family history. (I’ll ask) Are you having difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month?”

So identifying poor financial health is one thing, but what about intervention?

In other words, how can a family doctor help?

“Unfortunately, sometimes the requirements to get benefits (entitlements such as guaranteed income supplement or disability pension) are really challenging for patients,” MacKay said. “Because they do not always have high health literacy or high literacy rates to fill in the forms or to know where to go to navigate the system.”

That’s where collaboration between physicians and community agencies is key once a doctor is in the know, he or she can suggest local advocacy groups to help with the hurdles.

“The challenge is that if we identify this, I can’t do the paperwork to help them,” MacKay shared. “That’s where we do need to connect with nonprofit societies.”

His clinic did something rather unique, something quite innovative.

They hired a social worker.

“Our experience has been profound,” said MacKay. “The difference was incredible, once we had somebody to do this type of paperwork and assist patients in getting things done when the doc did identify (poverty).”

Addressing poverty and understanding its impacts on health has long been McKay’s passion.

“It’s encapsulating and it’s nice to advocate for my colleagues to really start paying attention, and give them a tool that’s very easy to use to identify certain things.”

Adding another layer to the doctor’s clipboard, however, is not without critics.

“Many doctors say they are not the ideal people to do this,” noted MacKay. “They would like to see social workers or the government take the lead but when people come in with health issues we are the ones who deal with it in a publicly funded health care system. So it’s good to not just look at disease, but to look at the whole person, and poverty is a huge (factor).”

In the end, whether a<span class="A

Just Posted

Good fencing makes good neighbours— especially when your neighbours are bears

Workshop in Pass Creek this weekend to promote benefits of proper protection for livestock

Castlegar daycare selected for universal childcare pilot program

MLA Katrine Conroy presents letter of acceptance to the program to the Children’s Centre at Selkirk College

Trail police release image of liquor store robber

The video surveillance image shows the robber aiming a black gun at the store’s clerk

Columbia Avenue paving scheduled for weekend

Paving on Castlegar’s main thoroughfare will take place in a few days, weather permitting.

Kootenay region posts 10-per-cent return rate on electoral reform ballots

As of Nov. 13, only 5.3 per cent of ballots had been returned province-wide

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

Protesters confront Environment Minister in B.C.

Protesters wanting more for killer whales confront Catherine McKenna

Humans reshaping evolutionary history of species around the globe: paper

University of British Columbia researcher had the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

Toronto ‘carding’ activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver

Cole says his experience reveals what daily life is like for black and Indigenous residents

Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation has introduced a new program that hopes to prevent accidents and closures on the Coquihalla Highway.

B.C. on track to record same number of overdose deaths as last year

128 people died of overdoses in September, bringing the total to more than 1,100 so far in 2018

B.C. firefighters rescue horse stuck in mud

‘It happens more often than you’d think,’ says deputy chief

Canadians more prepared for weather disaster than financial one: poll

RBC recommends people check their bank app as often as the weather app

B.C. dog owner sues after pet killed in beaver trap

A Kamloops man is suing the operator of a trapline north of the city after his dog died

Most Read