The Social Determinants of Health

Michael Burcham in Healthcare, Care Management, TPA

Mar 1  |  2 min read

While many organizations talk about social determinants, few healthcare providers are taking actions to incorporate these important attributes into the patient’s care plan. This is one of the reasons we founded Narus Health. We'd grown so tired of the care management industry ignoring these key drivers of costs and simply focusing on “approving or denying” services.  We’d watched hospital systems implement “navigation programs” which were nothing more than accelerated appointment setting for an entire episode of tests and procedures with no regard for the patient’s core issues of living. It was time to do things differently. So we created Narus Health.

Social determinants have become increasingly important to understand as evidence mounts that the level of family support, points of access, food, security and affordable housing help create good health outcomes. However, there hasn’t been a standard assessment tool to evaluate these key drivers of costs for the patient. Until now… 

At Narus Health, when we begin care support for any person with an illness or injury, we evaluate 7 core areas that are well known to impact one’s healthcare journey. For example, by understanding how well symptoms are managed, the type of family support one has, and access to providers (rural vs. urban) we know immediately how to tailor a care plan to optimize the patient’s experience and outcome. 

Our industry often talks about an “empowered” consumer with knowledge and exercising choice - but that’s not possible when one lacks basic support and has no real knowledge of either their benefits nor their disease progression.

Individuals that may at first to appear non-compliant with their physician’s treatment plan are often simply being held back by their own life circumstances. As health care professionals, we can mitigate many of these key risk factors. It starts with managing symptoms, restoring and strengthening empathy, raising awareness of family support and access issues, and thinking creatively to offer new solutions.

A person’s ZIP code is often a bigger indication of life expectancy than their genetic code. Ignoring that reality results in sub-optimized healthcare management.

Social determinants of health and understanding how they drive overall health (and ultimately our total health care costs) will continue to get greater focus. We should be evaluating and thinking about social determinants at every level of healthcare - from basic primary care access to treatment regimens for the most complex cancers.  Paying for in home support, a wheelchair ramp, or a transport for testing is much less expensive than a single visit to the emergency room. It just makes sense for providers and health plans to begin thinking about social determinants of health as part of their overall care management strategy. Managing these care domains can both prevent illness but also deliver measurable savings. 

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