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December 1, 2022

Less talk, more action on social determinants of health

For SDOH to fulfill its potential, healthcare needs to standardize metrics and improve data management, analytics and delivery.

In the news

There’s no doubt that social determinants of health (SDOH)—the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes—are widely considered important. But the healthcare sector faces headwinds when it comes to addressing them.

As defined by the US Department of Health and Human Services, social determinants of health are “the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” The idea is that healthcare and education access and quality, social and community context, economic stability, and where you live impact your health just as much as hereditary traits, diet and exercise habits do.

SDOHs are associated with medical conditions as disparate as visual impairment, childhood obesity and cardiovascular disease. But as common as these conditions are, addressing the associated SDOH factors is challenging. For example, many rural hospitals are collecting SDOH data but not leveraging it to the fullest extent possible, in part because there is no consensus on which SDOH metrics should be mandated in patients’ electronic health records.

The Cognizant take

“While data and analytics serve an important role in supporting SDOH-related issues, it’s really a much broader challenge,” says Monica Weekes, Cognizant’s Vice President of Healthcare Consulting for North America.

Weekes notes that the homeless frequently use hospital emergency rooms to procure basic care. Once those patients leave the ER, the hospital would like to do a better job following up—but this is a challenge when the patient has no fixed address, and perhaps no mobile device.

Weekes says that a universally agreed-upon set of SDOH metrics and standards would be a good place to start, in conjunction with enabling processes and platforms that both public- and private-sector organizations could leverage. “All stakeholders,” she adds, “must focus on tech enablement that breaks down data silos to improve health access and health literacy for the underserved.”

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