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P.E.I. family doctors get toolkit to help patients in poverty

Family doctors on P.E.I. will soon have a new toolkit to determine if poverty is preventing a patient from getting better, a three-page document that quickly lays out the numerous services that are available.

If poverty is keeping people from getting well, doctors can find financial healing as well

The president of the Prince Edward Island College of Family Physicians, Dr. Shannon Curtis, calls poverty 'the elephant in the room' when treating patients. (CBC )

Family doctors on P.E.I. will soon have a new toolkit to determine if poverty is preventing a patient from getting better.

It's a three-page document that quickly lays out the numerous services that are available so that doctors can hone in on those resources.

The short questionnaire allows doctors to ask their patients some simple questions about income such as, 'Do you have trouble making ends meet at the end of the month?'

"It makes you feel more empowered to be able to look after your patients and look after the whole patient," said Dr. Shannon Curtis, president of the Prince Edward Island College of Family Physicians. "Often we are focusing on one or two issues except the elephant in the room."

"We know that there's something else we need to address, we just don't know how to address it, so sometimes we just don't address it. And then it just builds and builds, and now we have a tool in the office to be able to address poverty and hopefully improve our patients' well being."

Tax, benefits advice

Curtis said if the patient is struggling and living in poverty, doctors can offer advice on where to turn.

For example, if a senior patient on a low income is having trouble filling out tax forms, the doctor can make sure the senior is receiving all allowable benefits.

Another example is helping ensure a single parent is receiving child tax credits.

The toolkit will be given to all family doctors on P.E.I., but it is not mandatory that they use it.