Addressing Social Determinants of Health to Advance Health Equity

Learn how social determinants and health equity are dependent on each other

March 15, 2023
social determinants of health

Social determinants of health (SDOH) and health equity are closely related concepts that have significant impact on the health outcomes of individuals and communities. SDOH are the social, economic and environmental conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, and which shape their health outcomes. Health equity refers to the concept that everyone should have a fair and just opportunity to access affordable healthcare, regardless of social or economic circumstances. However, in the United States, health equity evades people of color, non-citizens, indigent people and LGBTIQ+ groups. According to a recent Accenture study, health inequities based on race and ethnicity are associated with $93 billion in excess annual healthcare costs and cost the economy $42 billion in lost productivity every year.

Addressing SDOH is essential to achieving health equity and is costly to ignore. Improving access to quality healthcare, education, safe housing and healthy food is also crucial to reducing health disparities. Providers can play a significant role in reducing SDOH to advance health equity:  

  1. Assessing and addressing community needs: Providers should consider addressing SDOH such as lack of access to healthy food and health literacy as part of their Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). Partnerships with community organizations are excellent opportunities to maximize impact and scale existing initiatives. In addition to improving health in the community, these strategies also align with CMS’s aim for hospitals to focus on health equity.
  1. Providing education and resources: Providers can provide education and resources to patients and their families on how to address SDOH. For example, distribute information on healthy eating, exercise, financial management, and stress management in the language of the communities served. Providers can also partner with local organizations who specialize in services they aren’t equipped to offer. For example, partnering with a local gym to provide wellness exercises for the local community.
  1. Investing in technology to improve access and provide patient assistance: Providers should invest in technology that improves access and affordability for vulnerable populations within their community. For example, technology can quickly and easily match vulnerable patients to patient assistance programs. These programs provide funding to cover healthcare costs, such as medications and support social needs, such as transportation. As stated above, evidence suggests that addressing financial and social barriers improves overall health outcomes. Leveraging technology to tap into alternative philanthropic funding is a great strategy to address health equity and improve the patient experience.  

In conclusion, SDOH and health equity are closely related concepts that are essential to improving health outcomes for all individuals and communities. Addressing social and economic factors that shape health outcomes by investing in technology and other resources is a great strategy to achieve health equity.  

For more resources, check out the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) SDOH Information Exchange Toolkit.