Adapting to a whole person care approach requires innovation. Consider these three ideas—digital technology, social prescription, and national standardization—to better address social determinants of health (SDoH) within your program.
Innovation has always been—and continues to be—a crucial aspect of health and human services.
As our understanding improves regarding the challenges people face, so must our solutions. One innovation in the past few years has been an increased focus on implementing whole person care1. Designed with a holistic approach in mind, whole person care centers on expanding health care beyond physical outcomes to include mental, emotional, and social health.
There is ample evidence suggesting the importance of this type of approach. Despite traditional medical care accounting for only 30% of all health outcomes2, the majority of healthcare infrastructures are still built around this singular type of care. Without understanding the social environments and mental health status of patients, primary care physicians are unable to address the root of health problems. In fact, over 80% of medical professionals report feeling unable to meet all their patients’ needs, particularly in the social category3.
Thankfully, experts agree that the best way to establish a whole person care approach is to focus on social determinants of health (SDoH).
“The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age.”
– World Health Organization
Implementing SDoH means expanding beyond just prescribing a healthy lifestyle, but rather taking a critical look at social factors such as economic status, neighborhood safety, access to transportation, educational opportunities, and literacy4. By measuring these determinants (in addition to traditional health outcomes), providers can garner a more comprehensive look at the holistic health of an individual.
The best news about SDoH? Data collection has never been easier.
Case management tools like ClientTrack™ make collecting and analyzing information quick and simple, helping to bridge the gap in traditional healthcare. ClientTrack™ is “capable of coordinating wrap-around services to individuals… addressing SDoH while connecting multiple health and social service entities into one streamlined place.” Utilizing data this way is a crucial step to implementing whole person care.
Data is not the only tool for strengthening whole person care for programs. Just as the field of health and human services needs innovation, so do approaches to social determinants and whole person care. Three fresh ideas in the sphere of coordinated care—digital technology, social prescribing, and national standardization—may be the innovations that programs need to better improve their impact.
Digital healthcare—in particular, virtual ‘telehealth’ — proved to be one of the fastest growing industries in 20205. It is easy to see why, as it offered a safe alternative to meeting in person as COVID-19 continues to run its course.
Telehealth has done more than just protect against the coronavirus; it provides a simple way to overcome several SDoH barriers to healthcare6. For example, digital technology allows people with limited transportation to still receive quick and effective healthcare. It also opens the door to a wider, more accessible range of health professionals, including wellness coaches, therapists, and coaches. While previous care primarily took place in clinics, telehealth can allow practitioners to see into the living situations of their patients and provide more direct support, such as checking portion sizes and remaining medications.
As 2020 has shown, telehealth and other forms of virtual healthcare can provide a gentle approach to incorporating whole person care quickly and efficiently.
Another recent development in whole person care is the incorporation of social prescriptions. More health care physicians are prescribing social treatments to patients, such as taking a walk in the park, spending time with family, or taking an art class7 as a way to address more than just physical health.
In fact, experts show that social prescriptions can help improve emotional, mental, and social health, all of which are important aspects of whole person care.
Innovation for whole person care is important not just on the individual level, but also on the national one. In fact, recently more and more service providers are pushing to standardize SDoH measures across the country8. Unifying measurements can help not only data collection, but also applying successful implementations from other programs. When data and outcomes are standardized, organizations can more directly compare initiatives and best-practices among each other.
While a whole person care approach is not always easy, it is effective. As health and human services providers continue to innovate, the question becomes not whether to implement these changes, but how. As we continue to share success stories of approaches like telehealth, social prescriptions, and national standardization, the ability to serve more people will only continue to grow.