It’s an inescapable fact: The lower a person’s socioeconomic position, the worse their health. Research by the World Health Organization (WHO) has shown that non-medical factors—such as education, employment, food insecurity and housing—have a significant impact on the health disparity between rich and poor. In fact, it is estimated that up to 89% of the factors that influence health exist outside of medical care. These factors are known as Social Determinants of Health (SDOH).
Government agencies and healthcare providers alike understand the impact of SDOH and want to do something to close the gap. However, a 2022 survey showed that while 80% of care providers believe that addressing SDOH is essential to improving health outcomes and decreasing costs, 61% said they lacked the time and the ability to affect the SDOH of their patients.
If, like the care providers surveyed, you’re committed to addressing SDOH but feel ill-equipped to make a difference in the near term, read on to begin making progress against your SDOH goals.
Below are a few tactics to consider, which are more fully described in a recent white paper, “Five ways you can begin addressing SDOH to improve outcomes and lower costs.”
Identify people in need and collect the data
Social screening needs to be a component of every patient visit. Screening tools, available through some EMRs and other sources, can help identify people in need within your patient population.
Master the codes
To ensure your clinicians and coders are up to date on the new Z codes, consider designating one staff member as your in-house SDOH expert and charge that person with following, disseminating and training colleagues on that information as it is updated.
Leverage payer resources
Health plans are also offering more direct SDOH support. For example, Anthem’s Member Connect program guides Medicare Advantage members to community health workers who help them find the community resources they need. This has increased healthcare engagement for 74% of members, resulting in an 8% reduction in hospital admissions and a 43% reduction in ER visits.
Build relationships with community resources
To drive better outcomes, it’s vital to connect patients to governmental and community resources that can help address their SDOH issues.
While referring patients to the appropriate programs is a good start, it is not enough; you should follow up to ensure they’ve made those connections. For that reason, it’s to everyone’s benefit for you to get to know and partner with community-based organizations (CBOs) to share information, ideas and issues and ensure referrals are followed up.
Emulate the successful methods of other care providers
The experiences of other providers may offer valuable lessons on what works and what doesn’t. For example, the University of Pennsylvania Health System discovered that offering patients a complimentary ride to an appointment did not lower patients’ 36% no-show rate. However, NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center of Minneapolis has seen success over the past 15 years by providing patients with bus tokens and hosting lunches with religious leaders of underserved communities. These and other actions have enabled NorthPoint to more than double vaccination and health screening rates to nearly 80%.
Addressing SDOH makes an impact
Taking proactive measures as described here will inform better decision-making and drive policies that work to undo the inequities in healthcare and lower costs for everyone. And when you build on those findings, using analytics to identify at-risk or in-need individuals, you can take the next step with outreach efforts that refer patients to relevant professionals and community resources.
Vatica Health can help. Our PCP-centric risk adjustment and quality of care solution combines technology with clinical consultants who review and curate all relevant health plan and EMR data. This results in a pre-visit notification that can help your team efficiently perform the visit, document patients’ health status and assist with care gap closure.
Interested in a more in-depth look at SDOH resources? Click here.