March Blog: Work Smarter, Not Harder with Social Determinants of Health

Let’s face it. If you work in marketing, you know the uphill battle required every budget season, when the phrase, “Do more with less.” feels like the team motto. Budgets are being cut and leadership is asking more from you, leaving you with expectations and goals that seem impossible to reach.
As we traverse the current public health crisis, with less resources both in staff and budget, healthcare companies are searching for a solution. If only we could target less people but generate better reach. Perhaps the answer lies not in working harder, but smarter, using deeper data insights such as social determinants of health (SDOH).

Understanding SDOH
SDOH data includes factors that impact a person’s health status and outcomes outside of the healthcare system. Some of these critical impact elements include housing, food security, transportation, education, economic status, and environmental stability. When you can see a person’s life journey through a clearer lens – with social and clinical variables – you have a better opportunity to deliver relevant, actionable programming that is more personalized to an individual’s specific needs.

The Impact
We are living in a time where the old ways of targeting by age, race, and gender alone isn’t going to cut it. We need to look beyond patient claims and start focusing on the non-clinical health drivers that are making an impact. Afterall, according to a 2018 study conducted by the Permanente Journal, upwards of 70% of health outcomes are driven by factors beyond your clinic walls. Purchasing habits, whether a person lives alone, income level and social media presence – all these habits can be used to personalize wellbeing in a way that works for everyone. Healthcare stakeholders are increasingly realizing that factoring in SDOH can empower more proactive, efficient and scalable community engagement and outreach, which ultimately improves health outcomes.
For example, did you know that if a person tends to vote in local elections, they are less likely to overuse the emergency room? Were you aware that someone living in a multi-unit building may be at higher risk for COPD and perhaps should receive different communication and care offerings than someone living in a single-family home? Did you know that by using SDOH, you can increase medication adherence (and therefore the overall health of your population) by targeting seniors who live alone with limited transportation options and sending them a campaign offering mail order prescription refill services? SDOH shines a light on these socio-economic issues so you can drive actions that matter.

Managing SDOH
Technology combined with SDOH data can now give us a holistic view of populations down to the individual level. We can use this information to scale outreach efforts and connect consumers with the most appropriate resources. An effective way to achieve this is leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and other SDOH data can not only tell us what health information a person needs to hear. With the help of machine learning and modeling, we can also understand whether that individual is likely to take the action desired based on factors like their socio-economic environment, purchasing behaviors, and media preferences.
Furthermore, when you compile SDOH detail, factors can and do change, rapidly. So, it’s not only important to get the whole view of a person to provide the best wellbeing support, but also crucial you constantly refresh that view. AI and machine learning give healthcare stakeholders the ability to quickly review lifestyle changes and adjust outreach as needed.

Applying Actionable Solutions
Once you can analyze target populations with SDOH data, remember that it is important to also have a plan for using these insights in an effective, actionable way. Many times, a social problem is not solved through medical assistance, but through social support. Think outside the box, dig a little deeper. Discuss what you could be doing different to support those with restricted access to care. Lean in and partner with community programming to help solve some of these societal issues.
For example, if a health plan discovers that a patient cannot afford their medications, then they and their members would be better served by providing financial assistance to cover the co-pay of a medicine than the potential to pay for an emergency room visit or hospitalization down the road. Financial, social, and emotional wellbeing support are all important in people’s daily lives and has a huge impact on physical health and outcomes.

In Summary
SDOH is about understanding the variety of factors in our lives that influence our choices and, ultimately, our health. All of this can help the healthcare industry obtain a 360-degree view of an individual’s ecosystem. With this comprehensive view, stakeholders can design and implement the most relevant and effective resources and programs to support the root causes affecting the poor health outcomes that healthcare systems are so desperately trying to fix. Using SDOH data is not only a good thing, but also paramount to improving the health of individuals and communities in which we all live, work and play.

Carrie Oren
Strategic Account Executive at Virgin Pulse
WHPRMS 2022 Board Member, Education Chair

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