Perhaps you already know that the United States spends more on healthcare than other developed countries. For example, its spending is 28 percent higher than Switzerland, the next highest per capita spender. Even with this high number, the U.S. has a lower life expectancy and worse health outcomes than any other high-income nation.
A growing practice to address these issues is factoring in social determinants of health (SDOH). According to the World Health Organization, SDOH refers to “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age; these circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels.” HIMSS points to the five factors that determine the health of a population as biologic, behavioral, social, physical and access to health services.
SDOH by the Numbers
In simpler terms, SDOH is comprised of things like not having access to a high school education or vocational training, not being able to afford nutritious food or living in subpar conditions. Unfortunately, it also affects people’s ability to obtain appropriate healthcare services. Note the following statistics:
- Rates of preventable, chronic diseases are rising sharply in low-income neighborhoods, while health gaps between low-income and wealthier communities continue to broaden.
- Studies have found that individual behavior, which often is spurred by SDOH, accounts for up to 40 percent of the risk of premature death.
- The average life expectancy in low-income communities is 15-20 years shorter than those in more affluent communities.
- A higher level of education is a predictor of better health.
- An estimated one-third of adults in the U.S. report having had a cost-related health access problem in the past year.
- Research has shown that clinical care accounts for only 20 percent of health outcomes; the rest is determined by socioeconomic, behavioral and environmental factors.
- Adults in the U.S. are the most likely to report financial barriers to healthcare compared to other countries.
- Patients in rural areas of the U.S. are more likely to have difficulty accessing specialty care.
- A survey of nearly 300 hospitals and health systems found that nearly 9 in 10 hospitals screen patients to gauge their health-related social needs, but only 62 percent report screening target populations in a systematic or consistent way.
Many healthcare organizations in this country are increasing their focus on SDOH and the effect on patient care, especially in the shift to value-based care. A recent study found that more than 80 percent of payers are integrating SDOH into their member programs. These organizations are investing in additional staff and other resources around this initiative because it can improve health outcomes, reduce emergency department and inpatient care visits, decrease downstream medical costs, maximize clinical quality and proactively treat the whole person.
Not surprisingly, a key resource in dealing with SDOH in healthcare is technology. In fact, one report noted that the adoption of SDOH technology is expected to grow 12-15 percent by 2023. Examples include analytics tools, EHR integration and population health management.
Utilizing data analytics lets you examine the corresponding factors of patients’ behaviors and health issues. It allows you to more closely explore how the SDOH of a specific population and how it can be targeted through appropriate initiatives such as population health management. Plus, it helps improve risk stratification and gather data on non-clinical factors.
By integrating social determinants of health into an EHR, you better work with certain patients to improve factors that may negatively affect their health. This is accomplished through both proactive interventions and preventive care.
Population Health Management
The goal of population health management to address the healthcare needs of a specific group of people makes it a pertinent strategy to use while addressing SDOH. It utilizes technology to procure data necessary to successfully perform population health management and aids you in learning more about the health of the populations they serve. Most importantly, by combining population health management with the study of SDOH, you can better mitigate higher costs from treating chronic disease, decrease preventable hospital readmissions and improve the quality of life for people who might not otherwise receive the healthcare they need.