With healthcare, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Every body is unique and requires different care even when suffering from the same exact condition. It’s why the sector as a whole focuses so intently on gathering as much data on an individual patient as possible before moving onto creating treatment plans. This gathering of data can range from simple interviews, and clinical collaboration applications, to even more technologically advanced solutions such as data gathering from healthcare wearable trackers.

 If anything, this sheer abundance of data gathering technology and solutions should be a testament to the fact that care needs to be tailored to the individual. That said, simple access to the technology that can gather this data, like medical computers for telehealth or wearables, isn’t ubiquitous. The realities are that certain communities and individuals are falling behind the curve. And it’s only when you consider just how much influence these seemingly unrelated social determinants of health have over a person’s ability to receive care that this starts to become concerning. 

How do Social Determinants of Health Impact Care?

So how exactly do social determinants of health actually affect care, how it’s administered, and how effective said care is? This can be a rather difficult question to answer because the ways in which these social determinants impact care are wildly varied.

To take a single example, let’s take the current COVID-19 pandemic. Due to its highly contagious and infectious nature, healthcare has taken a massive shift towards remote treatment and telehealth. While this is great and opens the door to more responsive, flexible treatment, a recent survey of 500 U.S. women revealed that the number of women with annual household incomes of over $50,000 that had used telehealth services was much higher than the number of those with an annual income below $50,000. Even more shockingly, only 21% of those with income below $50,000 even knew what telehealth was while nearly 70% of those with income above $50,000 knew.

While true causation can’t be claimed, it’s very likely that lower income families live in lower income areas and only have access to lower quality care – the kind of care that can’t afford telehealth applications. Thus, this social metric of wealth has sway over the kind of care a person can receive or even be educated about, it is a social determinant of health. 

And wealth isn’t the only social determinant out there. Education, community, gender/racial inequity, access to clean water, access to recreational activities that hold influence over one’s mental health, these are all social determinants of health that change the kinds of diseases, ailments, and accessibility to care a person can experience in their lifetime.

So, how can your team do their part to meet the needs of those who experience a widely varied assortment of different social determinants of health?

1.) Start by Building a Complete Patient Record

Getting started in social determinant-informed care calls on care facilities to improve their methods of gathering data on a patient. Simply jotting down symptoms, physical sensations, and preliminary guesses on conditions on an EHR won’t cut it. A move active means of gathering information on a patient’s lifestyle, habits, and more is needed. 

Population health management tools that already exist can help gather and consolidate all of this data and even give you more insight into the patient population you serve in the process. For example, enterprise master patient indexes are wonderful tools that allow physicians to combine several disparate records of patients (that may have been mistakenly created)  together using unique patient identifiers to receive a more complete look at their health. This can also be helpful since it eliminates the risk of duplicate records or incorrectly merged records that could hinder care. 

On the topic of combining records, it’s very likely that any given patient has seen multiple physicians in their lifetime, not just you. Doing your part to ensure proper health information exchange can occur between your facility and others can make sharing social and physical information on a patient more streamlined. Reaching out to your state’s HIE representative can help kick start programs that allow for better clinical collaboration between you and other facilities that may have more actionable information on the social determinants of care that could affect the care your patient can receive.

2.) Gather Community Data With a Social Determinants of Health Questionnaire

Going micro and gathering information on the individual patient is great, but going macro and learning more about the community you serve as a whole can help you preemptively prepare for the conditions that most commonly affect those who seek your care. A wonderful way to go about this is creating a social determinants of health questionnaire to give out to patients while they wait for treatment as part of their admittance. As far as deciding what questions this questionnaire must contain, having an understanding of what common social determinants impact availability of care can help. 

What are the Social Determinants of Health?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these few factors can help you and your team come up with a few other social determinants in order to create a potent, value-driven questionnaire. 

o   Income

o   Education

o   Occupation

o   Employment Status

o   Gender/Race

o   Access to Housing

o   Transportation

o   Neighborhood/Community Conditions

o   Leisure Activities

What’s great about a simple social determinants of health questionnaire like this is that it can be administered across medical grade tablets that are given to patients as they enter your facility to check in. Of course, you’ll want to make sure these tablets are fortified against infection with antimicrobial housings and IP65 certifications that allow them to be disinfected regularly.

3.) Perform Patient Outreach

Using the data gathered from the above steps, make sure you can reach out to patients with sketchy health histories or those who are socially more likely to suffer from a given illness and see how you can help them.

Like the story mentioned by HIT consultant, this doesn’t always mean scheduling an appointment. You can even simply talk to these patients and inform them about programs of yours like telehealth initiatives they may not be aware of. Making sure you have a properly functioning digital front door healthcare strategy can ensure patient-facing content is properly educating your community about the many different means of healthcare available to them. 

If patients you’ve seen before report that they don’t have the broadband necessary to take advantage of solutions such as telehealth, you can also help them find nearby telehealth stations or mobile care trucks. The kind of outreach you can perform and the kind of help you can deliver will surely vary depending on the kind of social determinants that are impacting your patients, however, performing this outreach is a must if you plan on truly utilizing data on your community to its fullest.  

Better Care Starts With Acknowledging the Social Determinants of Health

Care providers are being tasked with a goliath of a responsibility. They’re not only asked to provide care, they’re also asked to preemptively prepare for conditions they may see in their facilities on top of that. Fortunately, understanding the social determinants of health, while it does take some time and effort, pushes us further into the realm of value-based care. And if there’s anything we’ve learned in recent years, it’s that value-based care for all regardless of their social standing is a must. If you’re interested in learning more about the social determinants behind healthcare, public data sources are available that can be integrated into EHRs and your care programs. For more information on the hardware that can also help fuel these care programs, you can also speak to a professional from Cybernet.