Social determinants of health (SDOH) were on everyone’s mind at the recent annual AHIP Institute & Expo, held June 19-21 in Nashville. During the three-day event, 17 separate presentations were held on the topic, with varying focuses under the SDOH umbrella on everything from risk stratification to the impact of nutrition on chronic care management to the value of SDOH data on improving patient outcomes. There was also a presentation from Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, entitled, “Social Determinants of Health: Spotlight on Emotional Health & Well-Being.”

Following are some eye-opening SDOH statistics and important information shared by presenters at the event:

Presentation – “The Impact of Nutrition on Chronic Care Management,” from Mom’s Meals, a food delivery company that offers post-discharge and at-home nutrition services for care transitions and managed care.

Facts and highlights:

  • 92% of older adults have at least one chronic condition, and 77% have more than one
  • Food insecurity is the number one reported unmet social need (35%), followed by community safety (25%), housing (21%), social support (17%), and transportation (15%)
  • According to a 2014 Hunger in America study, 66% of those surveyed said they had to choose between food and medical care, while 57% had to choose between food and housing
  • The Journal of Advanced Nursing reports that “Compromised nutrition impacts patients and the healthcare system through poor outcomes and increased costs,” including:
    • Slower healing and recovery
    • More medical, surgical complications
    • Longer hospital stays
    • Increased readmission rates
    • Higher use of long-term care and rehab
    • Increased mortality

Presentation – “Intelligent Payer: Realizing the Power of Social Determinants,” from technology consulting and development firm Accenture.

Facts and highlights:  the company shared insights from its “Accenture Payer 2019 Consumer Experience Benchmark Study,” a survey of about 20,000 health insurance decision makers:

  • Access to quality, nutritious, affordable food is the top driver of consumers saying their care needs are being met. Other factors include:
    • Stable housing
    • Income greater than $30k
    • Internet access
    • Social activity
  • 54% of food insecure consumers have commercial healthcare coverage and 46% have government coverage – illustrating that social determinants factors are “broadly distributed across both commercial and government lines of business.”
  • 74% of people who report they do not have access to healthy food locally are managing a diagnosed health condition; of these, two out of three have a high-cost or pervasive condition, such as coronary artery disease, asthma, or congestive heart failure.

Project Link

The biggest SDOH news of the conference came on June 21, when AHIP announced its Project Link, the first-ever nationwide initiative aimed at overcoming SDOH challenges.

“Not every health care problem can – or should – be addressed with a prescription pad,” according to the press release. “That’s why America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) is launching Project Link – a new initiative that brings together the best thinking on how to effectively address social barriers to health and long-term well-being.”

This news couldn’t have come at a better time, as social determinants are becoming an increasingly prominent challenge for people across the country. A June 2019 study from Kaiser Permanente found that one-third of Americans “are frequently or occasionally stressed over providing for their families’ housing, food, transportation, or social support needs.”

And it seems the general population—in addition to healthcare professionals—now recognizes the importance of social determinants of health. “Americans take a holistic view of health, believing that safe housing, reliable transportation, healthy meals and supportive social relationships are nearly as important as access to doctors and medication,” the Kaiser survey notes. Respondents reported that stable housing (89%), balanced meals (84%), reliable transportation (80%), and supportive social relationships (72%) were all important factors in their overall health.

Wellopp was pleased to see social determinants take center stage at this year’s AHIP conference and is excited for the launch of AHIP’s Project Link initiative. The more we recognize the impact that SDOH can have on quality of care, patient outcomes, and cost, the faster we can achieve a healthcare system that works for all of us.