Minding the data gap with social determinants of health

Social determinants of health can fill gaps in clinical data, leading to improved health outcomes. Identifying which social determinants matter to you, reducing implementation costs and ensuring persistent compliance are critical to success.
09:06 AM
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A growing body of research demonstrates that social determinants of health (SDoH), such as healthcare literacy, income level and living environment, have a profound impact on patient outcomes.

“We know as much as 80% of our health and well-being are determined by factors including  whether someone can access and afford medical care – as well as factors like literacy, transportation and food and housing vulnerabilities,” said Tim Suther, Senior Vice President of Data Solutions at Change Healthcare. “Complicating matters further, no one social determinant is universally ‘the answer’ for all circumstances. Different populations experience healthcare differently. By understanding those differences, healthcare constituents can design for and provide better care for all patients, including the most vulnerable populations.”

Sadly though, SDoH are simply not part of the equation for the vast majority of healthcare constituents. For example, patient-level social determinants are not commonly integrated into health system workflows. Nor do care management models generally incorporate social determinants: They usually rely on clinical input alone. No “patient journey” is complete without understanding the journey outside clinical settings. Unless social determinants are integrated at a patient level, programs to advance equity and patient-centered care feel abstract and disconnected. And, if an organization doesn’t warehouse social determinants for all patients and monitor resulting interventions, there’ll be no opportunity to measure and recalibrate programs based on what actually works in the real world.

To be fair, integrating SDoH and clinical data at the patient level does present challenges, notably requiring time and resources across strategy, technology, compliance and governance functions. Data use principles must be agreed upon, implemented and governed. Information systems must be updated and maintained. Personnel must be trained. Unfortunately, these challenges cause many interested constituents to not even bother. It’s clear these challenges must be addressed at their very core.

Happily, there is help on the way. For example, you can reduce burdens by accessing social determinants in a secure, “always on” compliance environment, which has the following major benefits:

  1. You can quickly and easily prioritize the most important SDoH for your target population.
  2. You can iteratively model the likely impact of various social determinants on disease progression, therapy adherence, and more for your specific population.
  3. The “always on” component should not be underestimated: Maintaining HIPAA compliance isn’t easy – leveraging automated software that ensures interactions remain compliant is critical.
  4. Leading providers will also enable you to load both the SDoH data and the resulting analytics into your operational workflows. That makes all of this actionable and measurable.

“If you integrate information about a patient’s clinical experience with information about how that same person lives the rest of their life, you are in a better position to understand the true health and well-being of individuals,” Suther noted. “Virtually every healthcare constituent benefits when this data is integrated. Providers can use it to help optimize relationships with community-based organizations and better understand the impact of SDoH on quality ratings. Payers can better understand potential insurance risk and optimize member engagement. And, today, many organizations are using it to better understand the way patients are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, too.”

Learn more about how to effectively and more easily tie together clinical information with SDoH data here.

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