This Toronto Doctor Uses Postal Codes to Change the Lives of Those in Poverty

Armed with postal codes, one Toronto doctor is making lives easier.

As CBC reports, Dr. Kimberly Wintemute of the North York Family Health Team has spent the past year studying the connection between certain physical and mental ailments and poverty.

She says that the common denominator in diabetes, heart disease, trauma and mental illness is often poverty.

“We don’t always know who they are. People don’t come in saying, ‘I’ve got this problem or I’m struggling with finances,'” Wintemute told CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning today.


That’s why she found that doctors can screen their patients for poverty like they do other conditions.

A poverty-screening tool from the Ontario College of Family Physicians involves a questionnaire that helps to identify patients living in poverty and connecting them with helpful community resources. As CBC reports, a version of the tool has just been released for every province and territory in the country except for Quebec, where a local tool is being used.

While the correlation between poor health and poverty is well documented, doctors faced the problem of identifying just who was at risk in the first place.


That’s why Wintemute launched a pilot project at her office to enable doctors to determine just who among their roster of patients may be struggling financially more than others.

Her project uses Statistics Canada data on income levels by postal code and checks it against the profiles of her patients.

The four doctors at Wintemute’s clinic who took part in the project found that 147 of their patients lived in postal codes that had the lowest income brackets. Of the 49 people who agreed to be screened, 12 admitted that they were struggling, according to CBC.

This knowledge is life-changing in the worlds of those living in dire situations.


Wintemute says the insight enables doctors to connect patients with a caseworker who can connect them with services in their communities that can make their lives easier. This includes things like a free tax clinic to ensure that they qualify for benefits and patient advocacy for things like affordable drugs and medicines.

While Wintemute hopes to expand the program to all 76 doctors working with the North York Family Health Team, the hope is that it also gets adopted by healthcare providers throughout the city.

Because nobody deserves to struggle in silence.

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