There’s been increased attention given to the idea that some population groups experience different health patterns than others. That includes frequency and types of conditions, type of care they receive, and longer-term implications that encompass a broad set of variables that impact health and wellness, called Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). These include geography, education, living environment, employment and economic status, access to food and resources, and other variables where people live and work. They are non-medical factors that can impact people’s overall health ad risk factors.
In 2000, SDOH contributed to nearly 700,000 deaths in the United States. Specifically, some 245,000 deaths were attributable to low education; 176,000 to racial segregation; 162,000 to low social support; 133,000 to individual-level poverty; 119,000 to income inequality; and 39,000 to area-level poverty.
Physical conditions, in particular, have been shown to have a strong connection to social demographics. These include conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, and others. Furthermore, when it comes to treatment, there is a vast disparity in healthcare spend (e.g., utilization) that can be related back to geographic factors, not patient-specific factors. Many differences in healthcare can be attributed to place-specific variables.
There are, however, ways connected healthcare solutions can help overcome the impact of many social determinants and provide better health outcomes for patients.
Many areas have limited access to healthcare services due to distance, making getting to providers difficult (especially specialists). Some areas have high patient-to-doctor ratios, creating challenges with scheduling appointments. This can lead to increased emergency room visits, simply to get access, or it can mean patients simply don’t see a doctor. Connected health services can take distance out of the equation for many conditions, allowing patients to see doctors and specialists from anywhere. That can include homes, offices, schools, or more convenient healthcare facilities, and can make it easier to see physicians during peak seasons.
The more information healthcare organizations and governments have about population groups, the more effectively they can manage population health and social determinants. Connected healthcare is fundamentally designed to collect data from a variety of sources, including medical facilities, insurance providers, social media, government databases, connected medical devices and applications, and from patients themselves, to name a few. Aggregate data can then be analyzed to understand trends in health conditions and healthcare utilization based on demographic breakdowns to understand how different variables impact health, and can identify opportunities for reducing conditions that have a higher likelihood of negatively impacting health conditions.
Connected health has the ability to change the patient-doctor relationship thanks to increased communication, better information sharing, remote monitoring solutions, mobile and web apps, and other features that drive patient involvement in their own care. Patient engagement may have started as a fitness fad, but it is an invaluable tool that can open new communications channels between patients and physicians, between multiple doctors, and even between patients or patient groups as support mechanisms. The increased involvement has a threefold effect: it drives better health and wellness; it generates more data; and it encourages patients to help others. All of these are factors that can help overcome the effects of social determinants.
Healthcare costs can present an obstacle to healthcare services for many patients. While connected health services promise to alleviate many of the burdens facing the healthcare system, additional regulation is needed to ensure coverage of connected healthcare services for Medicare patients, in particular. Regulatory activity has increased already, but more is needed in order to allow connected health adoption to grow to the point where it can have an impact on assessing and addressing social determinants.
There may not be a single answer to the SDOH question, but connected health offers opportunities for providers, patients, and governments to collectively understand and address them more effectively. To learn more about how connected health can help you better understand your patients, visit us here.