The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended doctors to scan for poverty levels during their child wellness visits. Since many health problems involve huge amounts of money to be treated, parents will soon be asked another question during their visit to the pediatrician: whether they have financial difficulties.
The series of recommendations come from the Poverty and Child Health Leadership Workgroup, created by the AAP in 2013 when child poverty was added on its agenda. Research studies have shown that poverty leads to higher rates and levels of chronic illnesses in children such as asthma and diabetes, but also a higher chance of dying young and low immunization rates.
Furthermore, children living in poverty are also prone to toxic stress and lack the structural conditions necessary to manage the stress. They are also often deprived of supportive relationships, a problem that leaves its mark on all their evolution.
In this regard, the AAP encourages pediatricians to screen health risk factors related to poverty. They are expected to do so by asking about the basic needs of children and then recommending families to resources of housing and nutrition.
However, the policy statement also urges doctors to participate actively in special programs aimed to support public policies regarding child health and poverty. Furthermore, if we are to combat poverty, the minimum wage needs to be raised, and the access to health care must be increased. Programs must be organized for children to develop resilience and their parents to find jobs and excel at them.
The figures do look quite badly. It appears that one fifth of the children living in the U.S. is surviving below the federal poverty line: $24,008 for a four-member family back in 2014. Under this light, more and more research have started to believe that doctors should be concerned with the economic status of their patients.
According to Montefiore Medical Center chief medical officer and senior vice president Andrew Racine,
“We’re asking pediatricians to take on a responsibility that’s much broader than their purview. But we have a responsibility to deal with the world as it is. We live in a world not necessarily of our own creation, but of our own inheritance.”
However, doctors do have plenty of reasons to avoid getting involved in child poverty. We can only hope that they will, at least, consider opening the conversation since a trial from last has clearly showed that if physicians scan for social determinants, their patients also tend to receive more community resources.
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