Healthcare workers in Nova Scotia may soon be asking patients how much money they earn so doctors can point low-income patients towards support.

The practice of linking poverty and health is already happening in Ontario and Manitoba.

“Patients tell us really personal things all the time. This is one other part of it,” said Dr. Monica Dutt, the medical officer of health with the Cape Breton District Health Authority.

She's developing a tool for Nova Scotia physicians to use to help low-income patients. It would involve doctors asking about a patient’s finances, and then directing them to get help.

Statistics Canada has reported that growing up in poverty is associated with increased rates of death and illness including diabetes, mental illness, stroke, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disease, central nervous system disease and injuries.

“When your patient can't afford the medication that you prescribe or they don't have a stable housing situation or they don't have income to help support being healthy, it's really not much use to try to tell them to exercise, or to eat healthy or to take their medications. They really need these other supports in place,” she said.

The Nova Scotia director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Christine Saulnier, said she thinks the tool is a good idea.

“If we can have a physician remind somebody to file their taxes — and they do have tax credits for people who live in poverty — and they get money, that can make a huge difference in someone's life,” she said.

Developers said they hope to have a pilot program implemented in six months.