Understanding the multifaceted dimensions of patient wellness goes beyond the medical symptoms presented in a clinical setting. In order to maximize positive patient outcomes, healthcare providers must examine and monitor the social factors and life circumstances, or the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), that significantly influence population health. These determinants – encompassing aspects of life such as access to care and technology, food or housing insecurity, core demographics and more – play a pivotal role in shaping the health trajectories of individuals and communities alike.
Monitoring social determinants of health can have a profound impact on healthcare outcomes, but there are challenges faced by healthcare providers in leveraging this data. Understanding SDOH creates promising pathways toward a more informed, equitable, and effective healthcare ecosystem.
The Importance of Monitoring SDOH Data
Enhanced awareness of a patient’s background and social environment has the potential to elevate patient engagement and experience, significantly improve patient care and lead to more positive outcomes. A recent survey shed light on an encouraging trend – as many as 80% of American hospitals are now collecting data on SDOH. This growing recognition of SDOH’s importance reflects a positive shift towards a more holistic approach to healthcare. However, the survey also unearthed a concerning disparity: only 53% of these hospitals are collecting the data regularly.
This gap underscores a compelling opportunity for healthcare providers to further harness the potential of SDOH data for improving patient care. The structured collection and analysis of SDOH data is needed to achieve a more informed approach to healthcare and to unlock the transformative potential of SDOH insight through powerful use cases including:
- Enhancing Patient Engagement and Experience: Gaining a holistic understanding of a patient’s social circumstances by collecting, monitoring, and analyzing SDOH data fosters a more empathetic and personalized approach to patient experience. It enables providers to engage with patients in a meaningful way, aligning care plans with the individual’s unique life circumstances. Furthermore, when patients perceive that their healthcare providers understand and respect their social circumstances, trust may be strengthened. This trust is foundational for effective communication and adherence to care plans, thereby enhancing the overall patient experience.
- Improving Patient Care and Outcomes: Awareness of SDOH can inform the development of tailored care that considers not just the medical, but also the social and lifestyle needs of patients. This nuanced approach facilitates personalized care, better adherence to care plans and improved health outcomes. Additionally, a robust understanding of SDOH helps healthcare providers become better positioned to educate patients about the impact social factors can have on their health and empower them to take proactive steps toward improved health outcomes. Beyond individual care, awareness of SDOH supports broader community health initiatives. It provides a lens through which healthcare providers can identify and address systemic issues affecting community health, thereby contributing to the overall well-being of the populations they serve.
- Program and Solution Innovation: SDOH data can be instrumental in informing health policy and program development, ensuring that policies, programs and solutions are designed to address the most pressing social factors impacting health. The integration of innovative technological solutions such as machine learning, predictive analytics and people-based data can further augment the analysis and utilization of SDOH data, driving more informed decision-making, better patient care and the creation of the next innovative solution.
The rich insight that SDOH data provides is indispensable in bridging the healthcare gap between providers and the communities they serve. As healthcare evolves towards a more patient-centric model, the importance of nurturing a deep awareness of the SDOH among healthcare providers cannot be overstated. This awareness is not merely a conduit for enhanced patient engagement and improved care but a basis for advancing health equity in a progressively interconnected world.
Challenges in SDOH Data Utilization
The road to regular SDOH data collection is fraught with challenges as limited resources pose a significant barrier, especially for smaller or underfunded healthcare facilities. The requisite technology, personnel training and the process alterations necessary for regular data collection and analysis demand a level of investment that may be prohibitive for some.
Furthermore, the rising tide of patient mistrust adds a layer of complexity to this endeavor. Patients may be wary of sharing personal information pertaining to their living conditions, financial status or other social factors unless there is a clear understanding of how this data will be used to enhance their care. The “creepy factor” often associated with extensive personal data collection further exacerbates this mistrust, potentially hindering the efforts towards regular SDOH data collection.
However, there are a few ways healthcare providers and their partners can overcome the challenges that come with consistently monitoring social determinants of health:
- Collaboration and Partnership: Forming partnerships with tech firms, data companies, community organizations and other healthcare providers can pool resources and expertise to overcome resource limitations. Joint initiatives such as partnering with an SDOH data provider or the development of shared platforms for SDOH data collection and analysis can reduce the individual resource burden on healthcare providers.
- Standardized Frameworks: The lack of a standardized approach to collecting, analyzing and utilizing SDOH data is a significant hurdle. Without a coherent framework, the efforts of healthcare providers may remain siloed, thereby diminishing the potential impact of the collected data on patient care and outcomes. Developing standardized frameworks for SDOH data collection, analysis and utilization can drive consistency, collective utility, and quality in SDOH data practices.
- Training and Capacity Building: Investing in training healthcare personnel on the importance of SDOH, ethical data practices and effective data utilization techniques can significantly enhance the effectiveness of SDOH data utilization efforts. Harnessing the power of technology to automate data collection, analysis and integration can significantly mitigate the resource constraints faced by healthcare providers.
The healthcare landscape is in a state of constant evolution, with the potential to profoundly impact lives on both an individual and community level. Central to this evolution is the recognition, integration and continuous use of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) data in the delivery of healthcare.
As healthcare providers and stakeholders continue to delve deeper into the realm of SDOH, the ripple effects are bound to extend beyond the confines of healthcare facilities into shaping policies, engaging communities and improving individual health outcomes. The potential to enhance patient care, improve community health outcomes and cultivate a more equitable healthcare landscape is within reach, hinging on our collective resolve to embrace and effectively utilize SDOH data.
And now is the time to act.
- For Healthcare Providers: Embrace continuous learning, foster inclusivity and engage in collaborative initiatives to share insights on SDOH data utilization.
- For Policymakers: Champion supportive policies and encourage dialogue with healthcare stakeholders to understand the practical implications of SDOH data.
- For Technology and Data Firms: Innovate ethically and advocate for seamless data integration in healthcare.
- For the Community: Stay informed, engage with local healthcare providers and support advocacy efforts towards health equity.
Monitoring and leveraging Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) data is pivotal in the pursuit of a more holistic, patient-centered approach to healthcare, which is essential for improving individual and community health outcomes. By understanding and addressing the social and environmental factors that significantly impact health, healthcare providers can tailor patient care and experiences, optimize resources and contribute towards a more equitable and inclusive healthcare system.
About Christine Lee
Christine Lee is Head of Health Partnerships for predictive data innovator, AnalyticsIQ. Christine has over a decade of experience in the data and analytics space and has worked with industry leaders across verticals like healthcare, pharma, non-profits, and more.