Last month, I attended Social Determinants of Health: From Tools to Action. Center for Health Progress supported Mile High Health Alliance to put on this day-long summit for those who work with high utilizers of the health care system—patients with complex health, and often social needs, who frequent hospitals and emergency departments. Panelists shared a diverse scope of Colorado projects and programs to address their patients’ social needs, including a patient-friendly app that can be used in any setting for patients to prioritize their social needs and receive support, and a program launched by Southeast Health Group that creatively addresses the community’s rural transportation challenges. It was inspiring to hear about all the incredible efforts across the state.
Mary Carl, Managing Director of Programs in the Bay Area at Health Leads, gave the keynote, Changing What “Counts” as Health Care. She began by making a series of statements about a primary care visit. If the statement was true, we would briefly stand. The first statement—if our provider checked our blood pressure—had just about everyone in the room standing. Another, related to food access and whether we were asked if we had the ability to afford enough food for our family—only about 10-15 people stood up. Even fewer stood for topics such as violence or housing. The point of this exercise was to visually show how few people are asked about the primary factors that actually determine a person’s health—the social determinants of health.
At Center for Health Progress, we bring people together to ensure factors like language, housing status, ZIP code, and race don’t determine a person’s access to care and opportunity to live a healthy life. In 2013, we produced a video, Art of Health Care, which shows how these types of social determinants show up in a clinical setting and shares strategies from Colorado providers for addressing them. This is just one of the ways we’re working to redefine health care and meet patient needs. Thankfully, we’re not alone in this work. As we heard at the summit, health systems in Colorado and across the country are working to address patients’ social and health care needs in big and important ways.
To better understand the varied approaches being tested in Colorado, we developed our newest publication, Addressing Social Determinants of Health in a Health Care Setting. Through our interviews with 10 project leaders from programs in Colorado, three distinct categories of interventions emerged:
- Provider-based interventions screen patients in a clinical setting and refer patients to community resources
- Systems-integrated interventions promote collaboration between hospitals/clinics and communities
- Community-based interventions originate with community organizations that often work with specific communities
Regardless of intervention type, patients are benefiting from these new approaches to health care. However, these interventions also all share a similar set of challenges that will need to be addressed in order to achieve their full potential. These include addressing power dynamics, funding, workflow, and evaluation—and we’ve included more detail on those in this new report.
Looking toward the future, we can see how the definition of health care is changing—and that was evident at last month’s summit. Through collaboration and commitment, we can mitigate the structural barriers their patients regularly face. We’re committed to ensuring our health care system works for everyone. Are you?