What You Need to Know About Social Determinants of Health

Social determinants of health (SDOH) play a crucial role in influencing patient care and health outcomes. These determinants are non-medical factors that contribute to an individual’s overall health and well-being. Some of the key social determinants of health include socioeconomic status, education, housing, access to health care, employment and social support systems. But how do they affect patient care? Below we offer a breakdown of common social determinants and their impact on your patients’ ability to access the care they need to maintain good health. Here’s how these factors can affect patient care:

  1. Socioeconomic Status (SES): Socioeconomic status is a significant determinant of health and access to health care. Lower SES is associated with higher rates of chronic diseases, poorer health outcomes, and decreased life expectancy. Patients with lower socioeconomic status may face barriers in accessing health care services due to financial limitations or lack of health insurance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults living below the federal poverty level are more likely to report fair or poor health compared to those living above the poverty level (2019 data).
  2. Education: Education level is linked to health outcomes, with higher education generally associated with better health. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, individuals with higher levels of education tend to have lower mortality rates and a healthier lifestyle. They are also more likely to seek preventive care and engage in health-promoting behaviors.
  3. Housing and Environment: Inadequate or unstable housing conditions can lead to exposure to environmental hazards, such as mold, lead and pollution, which can contribute to respiratory issues and other health problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor housing conditions can lead to increased risk of communicable diseases and mental health issues.
  4. Access to Health Care: Unequal access to health care services can result in disparities in patient care. Patients without access to primary care may delay seeking medical attention, leading to worsened health conditions. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that in 2019, about 10% of the non-elderly population in the United States were uninsured, which could impact their ability to receive timely and appropriate medical care.
  5. Employment and Working Conditions: Job insecurity, stressful work environments and lack of control over work conditions can lead to negative health outcomes. The American Psychological Association (APA) highlights that work-related stress contributes to various health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, mental health disorders and musculoskeletal problems.
  6. Social Support Systems: Strong social support networks can positively impact patient care and health outcomes. Social isolation and lack of social connections have been associated with increased morbidity and mortality. A study published in PLoS Medicine found that inadequate social relationships were associated with a 29% increase in the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

It’s important to recognize that SDOH often interact and compound, creating complex challenges for health care providers in addressing the needs of their patients. While providers can’t necessarily fix these problems, it can be helpful to refer patients to community services for mental health support, social connections, stable housing, access to food and necessities, and more. In the future, SDOH are expected to play a more prominent role in health care payor models as the industry continues to recognize their impact on patient outcomes and overall health care costs.

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