NHIT Week 2018: Why Social Determinants of Health Are Vital to Patient Care

Providers are striving to keep patients healthier. Figuring out how to factor in environmental conditions is a start.

As payment reform shifts provider strategies to strive for quality over quantity in care, organizations must think more and more about how best to keep their patients happy and healthy. Social determinants of health — environmental conditions that factor into a patient’s everyday life — are an important part of an equation that, to date, have not been considered as much as they ought to be.

But while safe communities and access to both healthy food and a quality education impact a person’s wellness, a report published earlier this year from Patchwise Labs found that less than 4 percent of health systems and managed care organizations invested any money in technology geared toward social determinants of health. One reason: Providers aren’t sure how best to incorporate such information into the care paradigm.

“In communities across the country, it remains mostly unclear what performance, payment and accountability look like for non-clinical care,” writes Naveen Rao, Patchwise Labs founder and managing partner, in a blog post on the report.

However, he calls data a unifying thread across such issues.

“Today’s investments in new tech serve as a foundational effort in understanding how to better capture, translate and otherwise leverage SDOH data for better clinical and financial outcomes,” Rao writes.

DOWNLOAD: Learn how organizations are tapping connected technologies to streamline operations!

Elevate the Conversation Around New Care Models

Even as providers are still trying to find their footing when it comes to social determinants of health, influential industry stakeholders are working to elevate the conversation around their inclusion in healthcare. For instance, former National Coordinator for Health IT Dr. Karen DeSalvo, who now serves as a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Dell Medical School, focuses much of her time today on trying to integrate social determinants into new care models.

“There’s an exciting array of tools and approaches that are emerging to do some social risk stratifications, and also to use digital tools to help link people between the health and social services sector,” DeSalvo said in an interview earlier this year with NEJM Catalyst. “I would be an early adopter of some of those tools, because I think solving this for our patients, whether this is the cost you’re worried about, or the health outcomes, or their social needs, we’re going to have to be able to measure and track it.”

Earlier this month, the American Medical Association, touted that social determinants of health will be part of new curricular innovations as part of its AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium.

“Knowing that our work to transform medical education is far from finished, the AMA is excited to continue to foster this environment where individuals and institutions can learn from each other and innovate,” AMA CEO and Executive Vice President Dr. James L. Madara said in a statement. “This next phase of work will allow consortium schools to continue to explore new concepts and create new solutions for medical education — impacting the national direction of medical education and better preparing all of our future physicians for practice in the continually changing healthcare environment.”

Now more than ever, providers are looking to take a more holistic approach to care that prioritizes patient health and wellness. Including social determinants in care conversations will only help to fuel such efforts.

Check out HealthTech’s NHIT Week coverage on our event page, or follow the conversation at @CDW_Healthcare or with the hashtag #NHITWeek.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using #WellnessIT.

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Oct 11 2018