Canadian doctors developed the Poverty Tool to address poverty as a health issue and risk. The tool offers a three-step approach that will aid doctors, health care providers and nurses to tackle poverty in a hospital setting.

The simple tests include asking the patient about their income, inquiring how poverty affects their health, and connecting these patients to available community and benefits programs that could help them. The Poverty Tool's main message for people in the healthcare field is to help patients reduce their poverty and tackle it as part of their job.

The Poverty Tool was launched and taught first in Ontario and progressed across Canada. The initial results showed much potential that versions are currently being developed in various provinces in Canada, including Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia.

"Treating people at low income with a higher income will have at least as big an impact on their health as any other drugs that I could prescribe them," said Dr. Gary Bloch, a family physician at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and the co-chair of the Ontario College of Family Physicians' Committee on Poverty and Health.

In adults, poverty contributes to the increased risks of developing acute illnesses, chronic diseases, as well as traumas and accidents. In children, poverty's effects start in the womb and progresses through adulthood. For minimum wage earners, poverty worsens health conditions.

In Canada, a poor patient carries a 17 percent increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to the average Canadian. Poor patients also have 58 percent higher risks of developing depression. Moreover, they are greatly exposed to higher rates of developing different types of cancers such as cervical and lung cancers.

Based on the mounting evidence of how poverty increases risks of developing chronic diseases, the team of doctors pushed for a standard tool that can be used to screen the patient's level of poverty and can maximize local benefits.

For instance, the Manitoba government developed a local version of the Poverty Tool by collaborating with civil society members, medical groups and academic organizations. Their tweaked version of the Poverty Tool is now being utilized in schools, health care facilities, libraries and even community agencies.

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