The term health equity has found its way into business plans, patient-facing documents, regulations, initiatives, and the news. A recent Deloitte report noted that over 80% of c-suite executives spanning healthcare organizations and the life sciences anticipate a 2024 focus on improved health equity, flagging it as a top 10 goal for the year. In particular, the CDC calls for addressing social determinants of health (SDoH) as a primary method to deliver on health equity goals.
With such emphasis on both terms and a drive to incorporate them into healthcare, organizations can benefit from support to ensure they steer clear of using SDoH as a buzzword, and instead hit the mark of health equity results. Ultimately, moving beyond mere talk about SDoH and into action matters for healthcare groups’ abilities to succeed in value-based care models and beyond.
Challenges of change
Change does not come easily, and not for a lack of effort. With regulations requiring Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health (ACO REACH) groups to show the efficacy of their health equity plans starting this year, risk-bearing organizations face pressure to make the leap soon. However, well-intentioned groups can struggle to make the shift towards delivering on health equity. Even initiatives that seem promising on paper may not be successful in practice. The data might reveal that the adjustments did not have the intended impact, or only partially addressed the issue. To succeed in promoting health equity, organizations need to adopt new methods and a new mindset. This requires the implementation of innovative tools and a new way of thinking.
From buzzword to action
As a step towards health equity, healthcare organizations can advocate for a proactive, preventive approach that integrates SDoH into healthcare delivery. To achieve this, organizations need to be able to answer the following questions:
- How does SDoH impact your patient population?
- Specifically, what health barriers are impacting your patients’ lives?
- How are you planning on addressing those barriers/risks?
To answer these questions, organizations need to incorporate new data sets and analytic tools. By analyzing clinical and financial data alongside new data sets on non-clinical factors, healthcare organizations can gain a more comprehensive understanding of their patient population. These insights will serve as the foundation of their equity plan and allow them to build effective intervention strategies tailored to their patients’ needs.
Further, for groups to shift from buzzword to action on health equity, they must implement new workflows that are specifically designed to address the challenges of collecting and analyzing data related to SDoH. By adopting new workflows and leveraging technology, ACO REACH groups can empower providers and care team members to make informed decisions based on a more holistic view of the patient and seamlessly connect them with personalized intervention services, ensuring SDoH becomes an integral part of the healthcare delivery model.
Obstacles and opportunities ahead
Advancing health equity through SDoH integration is a journey filled with both challenges and exciting opportunities. The initial hurdle lies in overcoming the complexity of collecting and analyzing data on SDoH, workflow changes, and cultural shifts that require careful planning and execution. By focusing on specific interventions – like food insecurity and building pilot programs – organizations can leverage data to measure impact and refine their approach. Taking a preventive approach to social risks, rather than waiting until a patient utilizes emergency services, pays out. Through such actions, healthcare organizations can move beyond the buzzword and address SDoH in a way that will improve the health outcomes of their patients.
Group effort proves key
Ultimately, collaboration and partnerships across sectors will pave the way for success in value-based care models. Addressing SDoH in a sustainable manner is a key part of that endeavor, though not the only aspect that needs attention. In the end, healthcare, government, and public health groups can see the greatest gains in successful value-based care models through working together. The proof will be in the data: they can measure the success of their efforts through improved patient health outcomes and return on investment in their value-based care numbers.
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