Population health is a critical matter within healthcare in 2019, and population health improvements are at the crux of future healthcare progression. After all, the benefits and effects of a healthy population include better patient engagement, increased patient satisfaction, decreased costs of care, and overall patient-centered care. The social determinants of health (SDOH) are a significant part of population health. The healthcare industry is making strides to improve them can greatly impact the health of the overall population.

What are the social determinants of health?

Determinants of health are not limited to just “social” ones. Determinants of health are the factors that contribute to a person’s current state of health. These factors can be socioeconomic, psychosocial, behavioral, or social. According to the CDC, the five determinants of health of a population are:

  1. Biology and genetics
  2. Individual behaviors
  3. Social factors
  4. Policymaking
  5. Health services

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age. Social determinants of health also include the broader set of forces and systems that shape the conditions of a person’s daily life. These systems can consist of economic policies, development agendas, social norms, political systems, and more.

Why are they important?

Social determinants of health are fundamentally responsible for population health inequities. These factors, while seemingly unrelated to healthcare, create differences in health status. Addressing the social determinants of health is a primary approach to achieving health equity.

Health equity is defined as the attainment of the highest level of health for all people.

Examples of social determinants of health

The World Health Organization defines some of the critical social determinants of health:

  1. Employment conditions: Having a job, the type of job a person holds, and the security of employment
  2. Education: How much knowledge a person obtains
  3. Social exclusion: The relational processes that lead to the exclusion of particular groups of people from engaging fully in community and social life
  4. Public health programs: Programs that increase access to health care for socially and economically disadvantaged groups
  5. Women and gender equity: Actions that are taken to reduce gender-based inequalities in health
  6. Early childhood development: Opportunities provided to young children in areas of learning, literacy, and more
  7. Globalization: Trade and production of goods, and having food or being able to acquire food
  8. Health systems: Having access to health services and the quality of those services
  9. Urbanization: Housing status and policy interventions that improve living conditions

Taking action on social determinants of health

While many healthcare industry experts are still pinning down the best strategies for improving health equity, there have been several great examples of organizations that are making an impact.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Institute recently announced a partnership with the Health Care Service Corporation and foodQ to connect more people with nutritious foods. Through the program, nutritious meals are delivered to families living in food deserts. The goal is to reduce the likelihood of chronic illness and cut hospital and ED visits.

BCBS Institute also partnered with Lyft to reduce the transportation health care gap. Additionally, many providers are working with rideshare apps to connect patients with their providers. It’s paying off, too. In Lyft’s 2019 Economic Impact Report, the organization reported that they had connected 29 percent of all of its riders with a ride to a medical appointment.

Kaiser Permanente, a health system based in California, announced a partnership recently with Enterprise Community Partners and East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation to create affordable housing options for underserved individuals in the Bay Area. Access to affordable housing is a significant issue in this area of California, and the organization aims to improve health by creating sustainable and affordable housing options.

Additionally, GoMo Health has created programs specifically targeted to improve early childhood development. EduCare™ is a maternal and child health program designed exclusively for health, language, and literacy development. Programs have rolled out in Florida and Mississippi, with New York to come.

The more we can do to improve the overall health of our populations, the more we will uplift all aspects of society. Health equity is the ideal goal, and our combined efforts will bring us closer to that goal every day.

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