Screening for Poverty And Related social determinants and intervening to improve Knowledge of and links to resources (SPARK)

Health inequities are growing in Canada and around the world. These inequities are predominantly driven by differences in the social determinants of health, the conditions in which we are born, live, work and play. Healthcare organizations do not currently integrate data on social determinants with clinical data, and health providers are not currently trained to routinely respond to social needs. We have found that routine data collection has significant potential. Such data could be used to better tailor care to a patient’s social context, improve diagnostic accuracy by incorporating social determinants as risk factors, identify inequities in the uptake of health services and in health outcomes, stimulate the development of new programs, and advance research on inequities.

A standard set of questions on social determinants has not yet been developed for Canada and challenges remain to implementation of routine data collection. Further,  health providers and organizations lack evidence-based interventions to address social needs, particularly poverty.

Over four years (2018-2022), the SPARK Study will lead to:

  1. A multi-lingual national standard for socio-demographic data collection in primary care
  2. Implementation guidelines for data collection, extraction, analysis and use of data across electronic medical records
  3. Guidelines for engaging patients and communities
  4. Strong evidence from a national, cluster randomized control trial (RCT) on what is the most effective way to address poverty at the point-of-care, which will guide action on other social needs

We are grateful to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), which awarded our team a $1 million SPOR PIHCI grant to complete this work.

We have received cash and in-kind support from numerous organizations, including:

We are now starting the first phase of the SPARK Study: the SPARK Psychometric and Perspectives (or SPARK P&P). The SPARK P&P will aim to validate and standardize the recently updated set of sociodemographic and social needs questions in the SPARK tool and to also get patients’ perspectives on sociodemographic data collection in health care.


The SPARK study at the Upstream lab is now recruiting health care users in Ontario! We want to understand what Canadians think about health centers collecting data about the people they serve (such as gender, race, education level) and their social needs (such as income and housing).

Contact to join: and help us spread the word!

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