By April Gill, senior vice president, solution management, Welltok.
The future of COVID-19 remains a giant question mark right now. But what is clear in this uncertain time is the significant impact everyday factors, commonly called social determinants of health (SDOH), have on a person’s health. Literature shows that up to 70% of a person’s overall health is driven by SDOH, including factors like race, income, education level and more. Knowing about these factors can improve how providers keep patients healthy year-round, but also how they engage, counsel and treat patients as individuals during a crisis like the one we are currently experiencing.
If providers understand what kinds of SDOH their patients are facing, they can better understand what health risks they have today, as well as to anticipate their future needs and risks. They can use this insight to tailor what information they share with whom, using the most effective communications channels.
Consider an elderly patient who does not own a car and relies on public transportation for everyday needs. Before COVID, a provider may have leveraged this insight to connect them to Lyft to get to a clinical appointment.
Now, a provider with this insight would likely do much more – have a telehealth appointment instead, connect them with local volunteers who will deliver groceries so they can maintain a healthy diet without leaving home, and email them facts about how to minimize risk while using public transportation to pick up a prescription, if absolutely necessary. This is just one example of how providers can improve patient care and support by understanding what they experience every day.
But are patients aware of the impact SDOH have on their own health? To find out, Welltok conducted a survey of over 2,000 consumers earlier this year, to get their views on what factors they think affect health, and which ones they would share with their provider. Surprisingly, consumers underestimated how much SDOH influenced their overall health and wellbeing – responding that they only make up about 50% of a person’s overall health. (It’s really 70%). They did have a good understanding of some factors that drive health status – like type of work or who they live with – but not more than half did not understand how daily factors like length of commute also play a role.
Not surprisingly, three out of four people also told us they experienced a change in life in the last year that impacts health. The top ones were a change in 1) stress level, 2) annual income and 3) the amount of debt they have. With most provider interactions being episodic in nature, the opportunity to get to know patients at a personal level and/or stay apprised these changes is extremely difficult. Building off this, consumers were asked to list who they would share these life changes with.
Nearly 50% of respondents didn’t know what type of SDOH information to share with their providers, including changes that impact financial wellness. For providers, this is worrisome because poor financial health can impact outcomes by forcing patients into tough situations like having to choose between filling a prescription or purchasing food for their family. Providers and health plans who understand this situation can help consumers by connecting them with relevant resources like a food bank or perhaps by prescribing a lower-cost medication.
This data make it clear that providers need to have visibility into a person’s SDOH – to navigate and support them through COVID and into the future. This is possible partnering with an organization who has the data and technology to help them identify and predict what their patients will need support for – often things they don’t even know themselves. This includes using advanced analytics to identify high-risk patients early on, so providers can engage them through targeted communications and a personalized plan. A change in approach will deliver significant results, like improved outcomes and lower costs.
Last but not least, data reinforce this is just the right thing to do. The majority (74%) of consumers said they wanted to continue interactions with providers in between appointments, and 84% feel their provider would serve them better if they knew more about their personal health interests and goals. Patients are telling us they want a personal connection, and by knowing about a patient’s SDOH, providers can more effectively give it. As COVID-19 exposed, there is no time to waste in staring to leverage SDOH to improve patient care and support.