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Unlocking the Social Determinants of Health: The Why and How

Unlock the components of a successful SDoH strategy and identify key decision points.
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Join the IDC Health Insights team for the Unlocking the Social Determinants of Health webinar on June 16th at 11 AM/EST to learn how your organization should harness the value of SDoH.

The evidence of the impact of social and human service needs on an individual’s health has been documented time and time again. The need to integrate clinical with behavioral health and social and human services needs has never been greater. The impact of COVID-19 and the economic effect have created the perfect storm.

At first, it starts with the delay in elective surgery, the missed appointments (some reported as high as 70%) for primary and specialty care- resulting in pent up demand for health services by patients with unmet health needs. The start of this metaphoric rainstorm is then met with a 14.7% unemployment rate, the loss of commercial health insurance and significant financial and food insecurity. The perfect storm has now been constructed, which dramatically puts patients at higher risk of significant health challenges.

According to a survey conducted by USDA, in late April one in five households were food insecure. Children are not getting enough food. As the crisis calms a bit, both payers and providers are identifying financially and socially vulnerable populations to target COVID-19 outreach.

Fighting the Storm with Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) Data

There are many examples of the positive impact on health by meeting individual’s social and human service needs; the literature is full of studies that show the correlations. The challenge is that many of the studies are small and time limited, meaning the sustainability of such integrated programs is largely unknown. It is only through the concerted effort to collect, cleanse and integrate Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) data that program success can be measured and effective programs designed. 

The data issues for SDoH are significant. There is population level data that identifies vulnerable populations and there are assessment surveys that can be used to identify an individual’s vulnerabilities. Data is stored in different media, there are different assessment questions used, there are missing and duplicate data and there are no standards that apply to the data. Many healthcare organizations rely on a third party vendor with strong and extensive data skills to bring in SDoH into their analytic environment.

The use of SDoH data for healthcare organizations is like a funnel; the data is applied at various times to further refine and prioritize those patients in greatest need of integrated care management programs. Models are emerging where all stakeholder organization collaborate on providing clinical, behavioral, social and human services to individuals. Strong leadership, a relationship based on trust and collaboration are key to success in integrated care management plans.

Moving Forward with SDoH Data

Where to begin?  As with all new initiatives, it’s strategy first, with technology selected to meet the needs of the strategy.  Don’t underestimate the level of effort that will be required to harvest, cleanse and integrate SDoH data. Investing in integrated care is significant, it is critical that healthcare organizations recognize the need for rigorous program evaluation and differentiate this investment from philanthropic community investments.

As we discussed, the social determinants of health are on the minds of most healthcare executives, but what does it really mean? We’ve developed a webinar to further guide you on how your organization should harness the value of SDoH. An emphasis will be on the importance of a clearly articulated strategy and expectations.

Without a clear strategy on what social determinants of health means to your organization, the likelihood of success is diminished. This webinar will unlock the components of social determinants and identify key decision points regarding the data, the analytics, program design and performance measurement. To learn more, please join me for the Unlocking the Social Determinants of Health  webinar live on June 16th at 11 AM/EST.

Cynthia Burghard

Research Director, IDC Health Insights