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Fighting Poverty With Compassionate Family Medicine

doctor_patient_sad_comforting_The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recently released a report that touted understanding and compassionate family medicine as one way to help ease the burden of poverty.

The paper released by the AAFP suggested that family physicians can help mitigate the health effects of living in poverty by being more understanding of patients’ individual coping strategies and needs, as well as making them aware of the community resources at their disposal.

Paper author Patricia Czapp, M.D., explained that while being poor does not doom those individuals to negative health effects, it does place them at a far greater risk of encountering adverse environmental factors.

These negative factors can include lack of neighborhood safety, limited education opportunities, limited access to medical services and more.

“These factors all stack up. You can see why the average life expectancy is so much shorter in lower-income neighborhoods and why poverty is a generational problem, a cycle from which it is difficult for the individual to break free,” said Czapp.

According to the most recent census data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.1 million families, comprised of roughly 14 million children under 18, are living in poverty.

The census further found that nearly 10 percent of children from impoverished households weren’t covered by any type of health insurance, compared to 7 percent of children from non-impoverished families.

In the paper, Czapp says it’s important for family physicians to understand where their patients are coming from. One example she used is that of a patient who isn’t taking his insulin as prescribed in order to make each prescription last as long as possible.

“Don’t lecture to him about using his insulin appropriately until you’ve helped him get the electricity turned back on in his dwelling,” said Czapp. Her vision for healthcare is all about understanding patient priorities and not making them feel disrespected by questioning their choices.

Even with the Affordable Care Act expanding medical coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans, Czapp says that navigating the waters of medical insurance and claims can be extremely intimidating for some. The Census Bureau estimates there are still 41 million U.S. citizens without health insurance today.

“For the novice, this can be a humiliating and bewildering process to navigate, and it is so important that we and our staff react with compassion and understanding to help the newly insured learn what it means to be a patient within a medical home,” said Czapp.

Good health is crucial to being able to lead a happy and productive life, but when individuals and families don’t have access to even routine health care, their livelihoods suffer.

Acknowledging the myriad of challenges faced by those struggling to overcome poverty and taking measures to help keep them healthy during that struggle are important steps toward breaking the cycle of poverty once and for all.

Gina Lehner

Sources: AAFP, United States Census Bureau
Photo: Medscape