St. Michael's Hospital Academic FHT Physician prescribes money to low-income patients: Vox interview

May 06, 2019

Vox article published on May 3, 2019

By Sigal SamuelVox

Gary Bloch became a doctor because he wanted to help people who were less privileged than him. For years, he tried his best to treat patients coping with poverty and homelessness.

But no matter how many blood tests he ordered and prescriptions he wrote, many of his patients’ health problems persisted. He realized it was because he wasn’t addressing the issue that most plagued them: poverty.

So in 2005, instead of prescribing only medication, he started developing the concept of prescribing money. And for the past 10 years, he’s been putting that concept into practice.

In concrete terms, that means that Bloch connects his patients to ways of boosting their income, like applying for welfare or disability support. Often, it means guiding patients to fill out their tax forms so they can access government benefits. Is it a doctor’s responsibility to do this? Yes, Bloch says, because if you don’t treat the social determinants of health (like income and housing), you’re not actually doing what you can to ensure your patients get healthier.

Similar to the notion behind universal basic income, the idea here is that if you really want to help people, the most effective starting point might be to simply give them more money.

As a family doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital Academic Family Health Team in Toronto, Bloch hasn’t contented himself with prescribing income in one-on-one appointments: He’s also been pushing for broader social policy change. Treating individuals’ poverty may be a good step, but he wants to see systemic change, including a more robust social assistance program. In 2016, he was appointed to an Ontario government commission tasked with creating a 10-year road map to income security for the province (you can read the resulting recommendations here).

Although some doctors have told him they just don’t have the time or resources to prescribe money, Bloch says he’s gotten an overwhelmingly positive response from across Canada and beyond.

Click here to access the complete interview transcript & article on Vox.