More and more, payers and providers are realizing the value of integrating patients’ social determinants of health (SDoH) data into patient care initiatives. With the industry looking toward a value-based care future, it’s becoming clear that finding ways to incorporate what the World Health Organization defines as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age” is vital to improved health outcomes—and a healthy society, in general.
This includes using SDoH data to help guide the development and implementation of successful population health strategies, says Ali H. Mokdad, PhD, chief strategy officer for population health at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He argues that healthcare professionals can develop excellent, evidence-based population health initiatives—but unless a particular population’s SDOHs are considered, such programs will not be as effective as desired.
“A patient’s environment plays a critical role on whether or not they can actively participate in their own health and wellness,” he explains. “If a family is struggling to pay their rent, they are not going to spend money on preventative care. If a family can’t find fresh fruits and vegetables that are affordable in their neighborhood, they won’t eat a healthy diet. If they are in a neighborhood that isn’t so safe, it may be hard for them to be physically active. It is very important that we address all of these aspects early on so we invest in the right kind of population health approaches—and don’t waste time and money with trial and error type programs.”
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Dion Sheidy, a healthcare advisory leader with KMPG, a professional services firm, says that while adding SDoH data into population health initiatives seems like it should be a fairly simple thing to do, it’s much harder than one might expect in practice.
“The biggest challenge to using this information to help deliver care in an appropriate setting and an appropriate way is actually the data itself,” he explains. “Providers may not even collect this kind of information about a patient. If they do, the data exist in lots of different places and are saved in lots of different formats. The ability of any organization to successfully pull that data into a single location to help drive data-driven care is very difficult to do.”
But despite those data challenges, Humana, a leading healthcare payer organization, has made strides in incorporating SDoH into their population health strategies with their Bold Goal initiative, a unique program to help better care for patients with chronic medical conditions. Humana aims to improve the health of the communities they serve by 20% by 2020. Part of that strategy is considering SDoH factors like food insecurity and social isolation in their population health programs.