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Social Determinants of Health: Present and Future Implications in a Post-COVID World

When you see the words “social determinants of health,” what comes to mind? It’s undoubtedly a phrase that you’ve heard used in one capacity or another. But what does it actually mean? And what are its implications on population health management, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Let’s start at the beginning. 

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) are defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life risks and outcomes.1 

In other words, the physical world in which we exist on a daily basis and the socioeconomic resources available to us—from birth—play a significant role in determining our overall health and well-being both now and decades down the road. 

Examples of these resources include safe and affordable housing, access to education, public safety, availability of healthy foods, local emergency/health services, and environments free of life-threatening toxins.2 Individuals who live in areas lacking these basic resources are far more susceptible to developing chronic diseases and other serious health conditions that can have a significant impact on their quality of life and long-term health outlook. 

The World Health Organization takes its definition of SDOH a step further, saying that these circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power, and resources at global, national, and local levels. They state that SDOH are mostly responsible for health inequities—or the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.3 The same can be said for stark disparities from one community to the next right here in the U.S. As stated by the CDC, “differences in health are striking in communities with poor SDOH, such as unstable housing, low income, unsafe neighborhoods, or substandard education.”3

Healthy People 2030, an initiative that provides 10-year, measurable objectives and tools to help individuals, organizations, and communities across the U.S. improve health and well-being, highlights the importance of addressing SDOH by including “social and physical environments that promote good health for all” as one of the four overarching goals for the decade. Healthy People 2030 uses a place-based framework that outlines five key areas of SDOH3: 

  1. Healthcare access and quality
  2. Education access and quality
  3. Social and community context
  4. Economic stability
  5. Neighborhood and build environment 

That said, recent studies have shown that the severity and impact of the above areas of focus have changed over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While experts agree that providing resources that enhance quality of life can have a significant influence on population health outcomes, reaching those communities and connecting/engaging with the individuals that are most in need is now more challenging than ever. Population health professionals have had to adapt to the current state of healthcare and think outside of the box in order to overcome these challenges.  

At eQHealth Solutions, we’re committed to providing innovative population health tools and highly-interactive, community-based clinical resources that can anticipate SDOH mitigating factors and greatly improve access to quality healthcare services at the local level.  

As part of a complete population health management solution, our experienced eQCare® Care Coordinators are hired from within the local communities they serve to support patients throughout their health journey. 

The result? Quality of care is improved, and unnecessary healthcare spending is reduced—including reduced readmissions for the demographic group responsible for the highest resource utilization rates.   

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