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A 9 minute read
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March 4, 2020

Every year, speakers at the HIMSS Conference and Exhibition highlight the most pressing healthcare issues impacting their organizations. In preparing for the 2020 conferenceour team discovered a trenda focus on federal policy for healthcare inequity.  Even though the HIMSS2020 has been cancelled for health safety, there is much to be learned from the topics on the agenda.

Healthcare inequity is not a new concept—experts have been discussing this topic since the 1990s, and introduced the term “social determinants of health” in the early 2000s. Social determinants of health are the socioeconomic factors that influence health and healthcare access for both individuals and groupsThese are distinct from individual risk factors, like genetics, because they are shaped by public policy and distributed across communities. 

Some examples of social determinants of health include wealth, distribution of income, transportation, employment, food access, housing, and disability. 

Why is it important to address social determinants of health? 

Social determinants of health play a significant role in whether patients can access healthcare providers, preventative care, and general wellness needs. Addressing patient needs outside of a care facility is important for improving population health and reducing existing disparities in health status and healthcare access. 

Though many of us might think of healthcare as essential to individual and public health, it is not the most effective means of addressing these issues. Health outcomes are driven by many factors outside of how often a patient sees a clinician. Health behaviors—which include tobacco use, diet, activity level, and othersalso have a significant impact on personal health outcomes 

Social determinants of health are closely linked to health behaviors. For example, children of parents who have not finished high school are more likely to live in an area that presents barriers to health and wellness. Barriers include lack of access to sidewalks, parks, recreation centers, and libraries, as well as exposure to waste and substandard housing. Introduction of such obstacles at a young age can negatively impact an individuals health and wellness over the course of their lifetime. 

Visualization: social determinants of health 


Fig 1 This is a visual of the social determinants of healthThe references, methodology, and visualization can be accessed at GoInvo.

What is driving providers to address social determinants of health? 

With a continued focus on the shift to value-based care, medical professionals understand the key factors that impact patient outcomes outside of genetic determinantsNow that clinicians are aware of these barriers, the next step is determining the most efficient and effective ways of screening for social determinants and integrating that data into patient care. 

The primary method for collecting patient data is via patient intake kiosks at the point of care. These devices allow patients to enter their own information and answer surveys that better enable providers to understand trends in population health. Digital data collection also allows providers to share information more easilyempowering smaller care sites to build relationships with larger sites and provide better patient care. 

What are the key issues in addressing social determinants of health? 

One of the primary barriers in addressing social determinants of health is understanding which population health issues are the most pressing for each provider. As mentioned above, healthcare providers can collect healthcare and non-medical information from patients through intake kiosksbut there are other ways stakeholders are leveraging and sharing patient data.  

Some hospitals and care facilities offer transportation assistance. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) currently covers all emergency medical transportationwhich is useful in life-threatening situations, but only offers limited assistance to “eligible individuals” for rides to regular screenings and preventative care. This covers public transportation, taxis, and other ride services. The state of Pennsylvania also offers a Medical Assistance Transportation Program, which provides transportation or transportation reimbursement for patients receiving medical assistance. 

Patient data sharing also encourages whole person care, and can enable care facilities to work together and sponsor preventative care initiatives and educational programs. Sharing information can uncover the most pressing population health issues impacted by social determinants of health, and allow care providers to more effectively address them. 

Learn more 

Are you looking for more information about the role of social determinants of health in care delivery? Check out our blogDiversity in Social Identity and Healthcare in 2020, from in-house consulting specialist and Principal Customer Success Manager Brittany Morin-Mezzadri. 


Alanna Moriarty

Alanna Moriarty is a healthcare industry writer and content strategist. As the Content Marketing Manager for Definitive Healthcare, she most enjoys connecting the dots between data and care delivery. ...

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