Building a Fairer, Healthier World Through Social Determinants of Health

This year’s theme for World Health Day is “Building a Fairer, Healthier World”. Key to accomplishing this goal is understanding—and addressing—social determinants of health. As more healthcare providers take a holistic approach to health, more individuals and communities will receive the care they need.

World Health Day 

Today is World Health Day. Established in 1948, World Health Day seeks to promote the health of all individuals and communities across the globe. This year’s theme is Building a Fairer, Healthier World.  

How exactly do we build a fairer, healthier world? Most experts agree  that the answers lie within social determinants of health.  

Healthcare in an Unequal World 

It is no secret that a fair world in healthcare does not exist. Not all communities across the nation have access to the same quality or quantity of healthcare. 

Geographical barriers, such as location or access to transportation, limit the available resources for communities. Financial cost is often too burdensome, particularly in areas with lower socio-economic status. Even among those who can afford proper care, lack of understanding of this complex system serves as another catalyst for inequality. 

These factors, known as social determinants of health, are key to building a fairer, healthier world.  

Despite growing evidence that social determinants of health are crucial to 
overall health, they are still not a common part of holistic care. 

According to the CDC, social determinants of health are “the conditions where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality of life risks and outcomes”. Essentially, they are non-medical factors that influence our health outcomes. Five major categories exist: Healthcare Access and Quality, Education Access and Quality, Social and Community Context, Economic Stability, and Built Environment. 

Experts agree that these factors can account for up to 35% of individual health outcomes. This means that many medical conditions are not only caused by purely physiological issues, but social and community ones as well.   

In fact, a growing body of research suggests that: 

  • Poverty inhibits access to healthy foods and safe neighborhoods. 
  • Children born to parents without high school education are more likely to live in environments that contain barriers to health. 
  • Poor individuals who are white are less likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty than racial and ethnic minorities. 
  • As income decreases, the likelihood of premature death increases. 
  • Individuals that experience higher levels of stress (coming from uncertainty in meeting basic needs) experience a higher biological “wear-and-tear” on their health. 

Clearly, inequities in healthcare are directly tied to the imbalance of social determinants of health. Recognizing this is only half of the equation, however; how do we go about fixing it? 

While Healthcare Disparity is Real, We Can Change It 

While social determinants of health signify a critical area of healthcare inequality, they also suggest the solution. 

One of the best ways to address unfair healthcare is to focus on social determinants of health. This more holistic approach can better resolve health issues in both the short and long term. 

Take this case study as example. Alexandra Schweitzer, a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, tells the story of “Regina”. Regina was diagnosed with diabetes while experiencing homelessness. When she got into public housing at age 46, her diabetes began to improve. Now that she could refrigerate her insulin, inject in a safe environment, and prepare healthy foods, she could better follow the instructions from her primary healthcare provider. 

“That’s one way housing has a ripple effect on diabetes,” says Schweitzer. “By addressing housing, and with a lot of case management, Regina was able to get into a much more sensible routine of prevention.” 

A Coordinated Effort 

Addressing social determinants of health can and will improve the healthcare of individuals and communities. However, doing so requires a concerted, coordinated effort. No one individual will have the same needs or require the same solution. Each case needs a unique approach tailored to the specific individual. 

Because of this unique challenge, case management and community coordination are critical to ending health disparities. No one organization or healthcare service can solve socioeconomic problems alone. However, when human service organizations work together—such as homeless shelters coordinating with food delivery services and primary healthcare providers—solutions become exponentially more achievable. 

More and more organizations agree that central to this coordination is powerful case management. By using data and analytics to power decision making, social workers and non-profits can ensure that needs are being met, resources are being used, and people are being helped. Our industry-leading case management system ClientTrack™ has helped hundreds of organizations reach these goals.  

For more information on how ClientTrack has helped close the gap of health disparities among communities with negative social determinants of health, reach out to schedule a demo with one of our experts today.  

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