Social Determinants of Health or SDoH refers to the conditions that people are surrounded and affected by during the different phases of their lives, at personal as well as professional levels. This includes conditions at home and work. These situations at local, national, and global levels are influenced by the distribution of resources, money, and power. SDoH is also often referred to as medical social determinants of health owing to how important they are in determining the quality and accessibility of medical care. The pace at which we are moving forward, we might be looking at biological and genetic determinants not too long from now. However, whether it will be as easy to modify them as it is to modify social determinants is a question that remains unanswered.
Clinicians and others in the healthcare industry believe that the healthcare outcome of patients has more to do with their conditions and surroundings than anything else. It would be wrong to take SDoH as a panacea but learning and understanding the social conditions can play a very important role in building a strategy that goes beyond social boundaries and ethnic norms to ensure affordable and improved care as well as healthy people and communities.
It is important for healthcare stakeholders, especially healthcare entities to understand the relationship that exists between medical care and social care. And there are three categories that we can divide health and care into – social health (everything to do with food, housing, and other social needs), medical care, and behavioral health. These three categories put together provide a more comprehensive view of the health and well-being of people, negating the idea that eliminates the inclusion of behavioral and social services as integral parts of healthcare.
Social determinants of health have a direct impact on health at a personal level, community level, as well as national level. And they are found to have a greater impact on the health and well-being of people than medical care, biology, and behavior amongst other important factors. They also affect the kind of access that people have to things that can help them achieve optimal health. The only factor that is a bigger contributor to illness and death at a global level, than factors like smoking, diabetes, alcohol, physical inactivity, and obesity amongst others, is the socioeconomic status of people.
There is a long-standing relationship between people’s health and their socioeconomic status that can be seen in easy and quality access to health that people with higher socioeconomic status get. The same can’t be said about those who are present lower down the socioeconomic tree. Medical care is often thought of as being one of the biggest contributors to optimal health; however, in actuality, it doesn’t seem to have too much of an impact. It only has a very small share in the set of modifiable contributors that impact the health of a community or a population. The key factors that account for a larger share of the contributor pie include economic, social, and environmental factors.
The neighborhoods and environment of people also affect their health outcomes significantly. There are many people across the country, especially those belonging to minority groups, who are exposed to risks associated with polluted air, polluted water, violence, and other such things. In addition, some people are also exposed to health and safety risks at work. The authorities at different levels need to come up with measures to minimize these risks. Some of the things that they can do is to provide these people with amenities that can help them improve the quality of their lives.
Access to quality healthcare has always been an issue. People who need healthcare services the most don’t get timely or any access to them. There are many people out there on the streets who don’t have any health insurance. It is very difficult for these people to get the care and treatment they need. The governments at local, state, and federal levels need to work on increasing insurance coverage rates to improve healthcare access for the less privileged.
Educated people have been found to be more conscious of their health and safety. This is the reason they live a healthier and longer life than those that aren’t as educated. The lack of education amongst people is most likely caused by low income, social discrimination, and disabilities. People without higher education are also less likely to land high-paying jobs that can help them afford quality healthcare services. Authorities need to work on making higher education more accessible and affordable and build better-performing schools in neighborhoods that aren’t as developed as others.
Now, where do data and insights come into the picture? By using advanced tools, stakeholders in the healthcare industry will have access to data that clearly showcase various factors that impact an individual’s life and health. It involves an individual’s occupation, socioeconomic status, neighborhood factors, and more. This data can provide insights to not only analyze but also improve population health. These data-backed insights are much more effective in studying the factors and triggering a response to health issues than information that comes from traditional sources.
The primary objective of healthcare systems is to ensure timely and effective delivery of care to individuals as well as communities that they are supposed to cater to. Healthcare systems often run on very small margins but still manage to provide care to the economically underprivileged people in the society, most of whom are either are not covered at all under any insurance or have very limited access to quality care as a result of underinsurance.
One way of overcoming this gap is by bringing more easily accessible and at the same time affordable healthcare technology into the mix. The journey towards automation and digitalization has already begun in the healthcare industry. And with the advancement in technology, healthcare establishments are in a better position to promise improved care, irrespective of social determinants of health. Technology that aggravates inequities is only going to pose a concern for population health. On the other hand, technology that is developed keeping into consideration SDoH, as well as socioeconomic and sociodemographic factors, can be more efficient in providing access to quality care to all people, regardless of their location, age, income, ethnicity, and education amongst other things.
Having said that, it is highly likely that older people, people living in rural and remote areas as well as those from the minority groups or who are lower down the socioeconomic status, don’t have the knowledge and literacy required to access digital health solutions available to them. To not let social divisions deny deserving people access to quality healthcare solutions, it is important that there is an incessant push to upgrade healthcare technology. Technological innovations such as artificial intelligence, telehealth, big data analytics, and others can have a huge impact in improving different aspects of healthcare for the public – medical diagnosis, care management at home, treatment decisions supported by data, and personalized care to list a few.
The biggest need for healthcare organizations right now is to address SDoH when building their quality care strategy. This is one of the many issues that are stopping people from gaining access to optimal health solutions. Organizations need to work with their tech partners to develop and prioritize healthcare solutions that are in line with SDoH. The objective of building any such solution should always be to deliver affordable healthcare.Back to blogs