5 Incorporating Social Determinants of Health Improves Care

Social Determinants of Health Improves Care

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Disparities in healthcare exist all over the world. Physicians often struggle when faced with the complexity of the patient’s health and their social challenges. Some physicians even turn a blind eye to the social challenges faced by their patients. 

Health Equity needs to be prioritized by the health sector in ways that bridge the gap in existing disparities across the continuum of care.

What are the Social Determinants of Health?

SDOH (Social Determinants of Health) are non-medical factors that impact health outcomes. They refer to all conditions individuals are born and lead their lives in, all such forces that shape their day to day lives. Factors such as income, education, employment, early childhood development and housing all constitute the social determinants of health.

89% of an individual’s health status is accounted for by the social determinants of health. This means that more than 80% of the factors that affect our health lie outside the walls of the hospital!

Social determinants of health are closely tied with health outcomes. Now, physicians must actively take into account the social challenges their patients face, in order for healthier outcomes across communities. 

Here are five reasons why addressing SDoH results in higher-quality care. 

1. Patients Enjoy A Greater Sense of Support 

  • Physicians can help their patients if they are facing social challenges of any sort. They are in a position where they can inquire about the social history of that patient and offer them advice that could help them. They could refer the patient to local support services if they need it and facilitate them throughout the process of accessing those services. Failing to tackle social challenges among patients can result in misdiagnosis, inappropriate investigations or ineffective care plans.  
  • One study of patient perceptions on care integration found that 40% of patients said that their family doctors were not aware of their struggles such as having enough to eat or being able to afford transportation costs to clinics.
  • Communication is what bridges the gap between provider and patient at the end of the day! Through Hucu.ai, providers can directly address patient queries in patient/family chat rooms and when this happens, patients might just seek their help regarding a socially challenging situation. Hucu.ai opens this gateway of communication, which can help tackle some of the social challenges faced by patients. 
  • Physicians who address social challenges among their patients provide them with the support to work their way around their problems. 
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2. More Accurate Diagnosis Among Patients 

  • Front-line practitioners must address social challenges among their patients in a sensitive and caring way. This is very important as compassionate and empathic attitudes among caregivers can induce positive health outcomes. Evidence from a recent Canadian Medical Association Journal Article suggests this:
    compassion and empathy makes patients more forthcoming about their symptoms and concerns, yielding more accurate diagnoses and better care and leads to therapeutic interactions that directly affect patient recovery.” 
  • The integration of information around a patient’s social challenges will help the entire care team and will lead to more efficient care planning.

3. Health Access Among Marginalized Individuals 

  • Support among senior management will encourage the social accountability mandate of caregivers. This will give the marginalized sections of society better health access. Clinical practices wanting to break down barriers and making quality care accessible. For example, helping patients in attending appointments without any difficulty by providing bus fares or child care services directly supports accessibility of healthcare. 
  • Many clinical practices hire facilitators or patient navigators to enable easier access to support services among their patients. One pilot project showed how the primary care setting proved itself as a safe space for identifying patients struggling to find employment. Patients working with an employment consultant proved worthwhile, as it led to full-time paid employment among 57 out of a total of 117 patients, improvements in their perceived health and a decrease in visits to primary care and medications for depression and addictions. 
  • Activities like these will improve health access among the more disadvantaged sections of society. They will bind the community together as a healthier community. 
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4. Greater Trust Between Caregivers and Patients

  • Providers need to be mindful of their patient’s cultural backgrounds. When caregivers openly embrace these differences, they are more likely to have a trusting relationship with the patient. 
  • Trust is necessary because only then will the patient open up and discuss her/her challenges. Only then, will both the caregiver and patient move towards solving their problems and finding a solution to that. This will increase the quality of care being delivered to the patient. 
  • In the following study, Anne Andermann pointed out that:
    Growing numbers of clinical decision aids, practice guidelines and other tools are now available to help physicians and allied health workers address the social determinants in their day-to-day practice.”
  • Hucu.ai is one such communication tool that facilitates caregivers in their day to day routines, and is helping care agencies advance in their vision of better patient care.

5. Breaking Down Barriers to Health Access

  • Social determinants of health are important for quality health outcomes. For instance, transportation affects patient wellness. Barriers in transportation mean patients will likely miss out on check-ups, appointments or follow-up care.  According to the American Hospital Association, 3.6 million people in 2015 were unable to make it to their appointment due to no transportation. 
  • Many healthcare organizations are aware of this medical transportation problem. Major rideshare companies like Uber are strategic community partners in dealing with medical transportation. They have proven themselves as being cost-effective rather than letting the patient’s condition deteriorate any further.
  • Housing is yet another barrier to health and wellness among individuals. People who don’t have a place to sleep are going to find it difficult to take care of their health and are at greater risk for certain illnesses. Healthcare organizations are taking to deal with this problem. For instance, Kaiser Permanente has given funding to several affordable housing programs across the United States.
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Rather than prioritize our healthcare strategy around the social determinants of health for better population health outcomes, our health system often responds with expensive medical care where things spiral out of control. As a consequence, the United States is spending far more on healthcare with no more than mediocre health outcomes. 

There is a need to integrate technology across healthcare and social service platforms. This will open doors for increased collaboration and better health outcomes among patients. 

Sources

Taking action on the social determinants of health in clinical practice: a framework for health professionals. Anne Andermann. CMAJ. 2016 Dec 6.

How Do Social Determinants of Health Affect Patient Wellness? Sara Heath, October 9, 2020

Finding Effective Ways To Address Social Determinants Of Health David Lakey, Elena Marks, Eileen Nehme. APRIL 22, 2021

How Do Social Determinants of Health Affect Patient Wellness? Sara Heath, October 9, 2020

Finding Effective Ways To Address Social Determinants Of Health David Lakey, Elena Marks, Eileen Nehme. APRIL 22, 2021

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