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St. Michael’s seeking socio-demographic information from its patients to enhance care

Toronto, November 3, 2014

By Heather Brown

Poster with people holding up signs that say - do you have any of the following disabilities, and which of the following best describes your racial or ethnic group?

Patients visiting St. Michael’s Admitting Department may be asked to complete a voluntary socio-demographic questionnaire. It will help staff measure if everyone has the same access to care and assist in planning services to better meet the health needs of all patients.

Previously, the only demographic information collected on patients in Ontario was their date of birth, gender and postal code.

St. Michael’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, family practice sites have been working with their patients on the Equity Data Collection Initiative for more than a year.

As of September 2014, more than 6,000 people have completed questionnaires through their pilot phase, which began in 2013.

“This initiative will help us uncover previously hidden inequities in health and to learn about barriers to care our patients may not tell us about directly,” said Dr. Andrew Pinto, a staff physician in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital. “Collecting this data was part of what inspired our department to create a Social Determinants of Health Committee, to oversee interventions to address issues like income security, employment and housing to name a few. One thing we have noticed is that patients have been generally open to participating when they learn we hope to improve care. Less than five per cent have declined to participate.”

People who choose to complete the questionnaire, which asks about a person’s ethnicity, age, preferred language to speak or read, length of residency in Canada, housing status, disability status, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation and income, will only be asked once in a three-year period.

Everyone has the option to select ‘prefer not to answer’ for any question. The information they choose to share is securely stored as part of their health record and where and when possible, this portion of their record will be viewable by their health care providers.

The Admitting Department is the first clinical area in the hospital to implement this initiative. The Diabetes Clinic will be the next area to offer the questionnaire to its patients at the end of November. Additional clinics will be added throughout 2015.

The initiative is part of a larger health system program being led by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network. All 17 Toronto area hospitals are participating. It is also part of St. Michael’s quality improvement process.

Reducing inequities and addressing the needs of vulnerable groups is also within the mission of St. Michael’s Hospital and a key component of the Inner City Health Program’s mandate.

For more information visit the Measuring Health Equity or The Tri-Hospital + Toronto Public Health Health Equity Data Collection Research Project pages on St. Michael’s website.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.