According to a 2013 report, male residents of Fairfax County, Virginia have a life expectancy of 82 years. By comparison, male residents of McDowell County, a mere 6 hours away, live an average of just 64 years. Same state; vastly different life expectancies. What accounts for the 18-year discrepancy? Wealth has a lot to do with it, says Dr. Winston Liaw, a Privia physician and Medical Director of the Robert Graham Center at Virginia University, where he conducts research on workforce, access, practice transformation, and the integration of public health and primary care. According to Dr. Liaw, it’s important to care about the financial limitations of your patients because patients who live in lower socioeconomic areas have worse clinical outcomes. “Social determinants have more impact on your health than your genes, even,” says Dr. Liaw. “If we’re ignoring them, we’re ignoring a huge part of what it means to be healthy.”
In a National Association of Medicine Discussion Paper released May 2017, Standardized Screening for Health-Related Social Needs in Clinical Settings: The Accountable Health Communities Screening Tool, researchers discuss how healthcare practitioners can implement a simple 10 question screening survey to measure five Health Related Social Needs (HRSNs) of their patients: housing instability, food insecurity, transportation difficulties, utility assistance needs, and interpersonal safety.
According to the paper,
“Identifying the burden of unmet HRSNs is the critical first step to connecting individuals to resources in their communities that can address those needs and, as a result, improve their health. The AHC HRSN screening tool was designed to accomplish this function for several key non-medical drivers of health in a way that is broadly applicable across a spectrum of ages, conditions, backgrounds, and settings, while remaining streamlined enough to be incorporated into busy clinical workflows. Clinicians and their staff can use this short tool across a spectrum of ages, backgrounds, and settings.”
Dr. Liaw recommends incorporating such tools into practice workflows. Doing so is just one way providers can participate in the national conversation about soaring healthcare costs, and address potential health disparities within their patient panels. Remaining cognizant of your patients’ financial limitations and access to resources may also compel you to tailor your treatment plan to their individual needs, which can go a long way toward improving their healthcare outcomes.
The following are additional free tools and resources you as a provider can use to assess your patients’ social determinants of health:
Interested in hearing more from Dr. Liaw about how you can assess your patients’ social determinants of health and contribute to lowered healthcare costs? Check out the latest episodes of our podcast, The Break Room, for more information:
What role can doctors play in the cost of healthcare?… Part 1
The Break Room is joined by Dr. Winston Liaw to discuss the importance of social determinants of health and how health and wealth correlate.
What role can doctors play in the cost of healthcare?… Part 2
The Break Room is joined by Rick Foerster to discuss how physicians can play an active role in lowering the cost of care for their patients.