Aligning quality improvement through addressing social determinants of health

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light a number of deficiencies in the current healthcare system; the result being a demand for innovations targeting root causes of disease, particularly social determinants of health (SDOH).  

Organizations, including the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), World Health Organization, and Center for Disease Control, have cited population health research indicating that by addressing the social needs of patients within a community earlier, disease prevention will become achievable. SDOH are health-related factors that surround the whole-person, such as the environment in which they live (e.g. safety, toxin vulnerability, housing, etc.), access to healthcare, means of receiving an education, social and mental health needs (e.g. loneliness, family support, access to mental health services, etc.), financial stability, and food insecurity.  

CMS holds that the evidence is clear that social determinants of health, such as access to stable housing or gainful employment, may not be strictly medical, but they have a profound impact on a person’s wellbeing. 

Identifying and working to address patients’ social needs will help impact rising healthcare costs and low health outcomes. Research into understanding SDOH, and leveraging that data to personalize medicine, resonates with value-based care arrangements, which are essential to whole-person care and sustainable lowering of healthcare costs.   

Alignment within the healthcare industry between payors, providers and community-based organizations has accelerated this paradigm shift. Humana is leading this era of healthcare innovation by expanding partnerships and leveraging thought leader efforts to understand and address SDOH. A number of initiatives and pilot programs have been launched that aim to establish quality metrics for whole-person health, and furthermore, integrate SDOH into the patient care workflow. Ultimately, this alignment with CMS, Humana and other professional societies surrounding SDOH, will improve the quality of healthcare in the United States in a cost-neutral fashion.