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Fam Pract. 2019 Oct 8;36(5):634-638. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmy129.

Screening for poverty and intervening in a primary care setting: an acceptability and feasibility study.

Pinto AD1,2,3,4, Bondy M1,5, Rucchetto A1, Ihnat J3,6,7, Kaufman A3,6,8,9.

Author information

The Upstream Lab, Centre for Urban Health Solutions, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Canada.
Department of Family and Community Medicine, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Canada.
Department of Family and Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada.
Health Access Thorncliffe Park, Toronto, Canada.
Flemingdon Health Centre, Toronto, Canada.
Department of Family Medicine, Toronto East Health Network, Toronto, Canada.
Department of Emergency Medicine, Toronto East Health Network, Toronto, Canada.



A movement is emerging to encourage health providers and health organizations to take action on the social determinants of health. However, few evidence-based interventions exist. Digital tools have not been examined in depth.


To assess the acceptability and feasibility of integrating, within routine primary care, screening for poverty and an online tool that helps identify financial benefits.


The setting was a Community Health Centre serving a large number of low-income individuals in Toronto, Canada. Physicians were encouraged to use the tool at every possible encounter during a 1-month period. A link to the tool was easily accessible, and reminder emails were circulated regularly. This mixed-methods study used a combination of pre-intervention and post-intervention surveys, focus groups and interviews.


Thirteen physicians participated (81.25% of all) and represented a range of genders and years in practice. Physicians reported a strong awareness of the importance of identifying poverty as a health concern, but low confidence in their ability to address poverty. The tool was used with 63 patients over a 1-month period. Although screening and intervening on poverty is logistically challenging in regular workflows, online tools could assist patients and health providers identify financial benefits quickly. Future interventions should include more robust follow-up.


Our study contributes to the evidence based on addressing the social determinants of health in clinical settings. Future approaches could involve routine screening, engaging other members of the team in intervening and following up, and better integration with the electronic health record.


Internet; poverty; primary health care; social determinants of health; software tool

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