Use Annual Wellness Visit to Screen for Social Determinants of Health in High-Risk Medicare Population

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016
This post was written by Patricia Donovan

The social determinant of social isolation carries the same health risk as smoking, and double that of obesity.

With about a third of health outcomes determined by human behavior choices, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study, improving population health should be as straightforward as fostering healthy behaviors in patients and health plan members.

But what’s unstated in that data point is that the remaining 70 percent of health outcomes are determined by social determinants of health—areas that involve an individual’s social and environmental condition as well as experiences that directly impact health and health status.

By addressing social determinants, healthcare organizations can dramatically impact patient outcomes as well as their own financial success under value-based care, advised Dr. Randall Williams, chief executive officer, Pharos Innovations, during Social Determinants and Population Health: Moving Beyond Clinical Data in a Value-Based Healthcare System, a December 2016 webinar now available for replay.

“The challenge is that few healthcare systems are currently equipped to identify individuals within their populations who have social determinant challenges,” said Dr. Williams, “And few are still are structured to coordinate both medical and nonmedical support needs.”

The Medicare annual wellness visit is an ideal opportunity to screen beneficiaries for social determinants—particularly rising and high-risk patients, who frequently face a higher percentage of social determinant challenges.

Primary social determinants include the individual’s access to healthcare, their socio- and economic conditions, and factors related to their living environment such as air or water quality, availability of food, and transportation.

Dr. Williams presented several patient scenarios illustrating key social determinants, including social isolation, in which individuals, particularly the elderly, are lonely, lack companionship and frequently suffer from depression. “Social isolation carries the same health risk as smoking and double that of obesity,” he said.

While technology is useful in reducing social isolation, studies by the Pew Research Center determined that segments of the population with the highest percentage of chronic illness tend to be least connected to the Internet or even to mobile technologies.

“Accountable care organizations (ACOs) and other organizations managing populations must continue to push technology-enhanced care models,” said Dr. Williams, “But they also have to understand and assess technology barriers and inequalities in their populations, especially among those with chronic conditions.”

In another patient scenario, loss of transportation severely hampered an eighty-year-old woman’s ability to complete physical rehabilitation following a knee replacement.

Dr. Williams then described multiple approaches for healthcare organizations to begin to address social determinants in population health, including patients’ cultural biases, which may make them more or less open to specific care options. This fundamental care redesign should include an environmental assessment to catalog available social and community resources, he said, providing several examples.

“This is not the kind of information you’re going to find in a traditional electronic health record or even care management platforms,” he concluded.

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