How social drivers of health contribute to better whole-health experiences

In our modern healthcare system, health plans and providers know a patient's well-being is impacted by more than their physical state. Social drivers of health (SDoH) can be equally — if not more — responsible for a patient's health.

At Carelon Health, we take a patient-centered, holistic approach to addressing environmental factors. We believe in offering personalized care for patients with complex illnesses that incorporates their physical, mental, financial, social, and spiritual health. Through this coordinated, comprehensive care approach, patients can experience a better quality of life in the long term.

What are social drivers of health?

Research shows that SDoH can have a bigger impact on a patient's health than their own genes. In fact, evidence indicates that SDoH account for nearly 80% of a person's health outcomes, and more than two-thirds of people deal with at least one of these factors at any time.

Overall, social drivers of health are the environmental conditions that exist around someone's daily life — their home, school, or workplace. These factors fall into five main categories:

  • Economic stability
  • Education access and quality
  • Healthcare access and quality
  • Neighborhood and surrounding environment
  • Social and community context

The link between each SDoH and whole health is direct and critical. Currently, one in 10 Americans doesn't have health insurance, making it harder to get the regular healthcare they need. People who live in poverty frequently can't afford the healthy foods and housing that support good health. Those who don't complete their education are more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods that present more health risks, and they're less likely to secure high-paying jobs. As a result, they're more vulnerable to various health problems like heart disease and diabetes.

In some cases, the impact is as simple as not having the social support needed to access health services. This lack of a safety net can affect a wide range of patients from children of incarcerated parents to seniors with no family.

Connecting the dots for a better patient experience

Effectively addressing SDoH is fundamental to providing the best care possible for every patient. This is all the more true for patients navigating the challenges of living with complex or chronic conditions. Alleviating negative influences can open the door for patients to potentially change their lifestyle behaviors and start a journey toward better well-being.

Here are just a few of the ways that addressing SDoH can benefit patients:

  • Food stability. When people have less access to fresh foods, they can become more vulnerable to developing type 2 diabetes. Interventions that connect these individuals with social workers or patient navigators can boost their access to community food support programs that provide healthier food choices at reduced prices. Ultimately, this access can help them better control their condition.

  • Healthcare access. Taking steps to make healthcare services available to more patients can help prevent avoidable conditions. Telehealth services are a great option for people who don't have reliable transportation to in-person offices. Mobile health units that travel into communities can also bring valuable preventive and screening services to patients, leading to earlier disease detection.

  • Education. Efforts to increase access to early childhood education programs can set young people on a path to better lifelong health. These programs frequently offer health services and meals, and they also improve school readiness, supporting a child's future academic and employment success.

Folding SDoH into our Advanced Primary Care model

At Carelon Health, we strive to address and minimize the impact of all social drivers of health. To achieve this goal, we focus on providing whole-person care to every patient — from those who are healthy to those with complex, chronic conditions. We call it Advanced Primary Care, and it means we give equal attention to our patients diverse and personal needs.

Meeting patients where they are is a vital component of delivering effective healthcare. We serve our patients through in-office appointments, telehealth visits, mobile health clinics, and at-home care. During each interaction, our doctors and nurse practitioners invest time to learn about each person's life and the SDoH that impact them the most.

To keep our patients healthy and catch any problems early, we provide preventive and screening services. Our providers collaborate to deliver seamless care for a wide range of chronic conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and more.

We also know our patients develop health concerns or have questions in between visits. Our 24-hour Care Line brings expert health services to them at a moment's notice, connecting them with a nurse who can answer urgent health questions, explain medications and side effects, and even recommend a visit to an urgent care facility.

Giving every patient a Healthy Start

Everyone's health and needs are different. To deliver the highest level of personalized care, healthcare providers must have a clear understanding of a patient's well-being from the first visit. As a first step to providing Advanced Primary Care, our Healthy Start™ program creates that strong foundation. This no-cost comprehensive assessment includes:

  • Full physical exam
  • Behavioral health review
  • Medication review and consultation
  • On-site lab testing
  • Physical mobility evaluation
  • Preventive care screening

We take these initial appointments to the next level. During a 40-to-60-minute visit, our primary care providers have plenty of time to ask questions about the patient's mood, access to healthy foods, transportation, and overall feelings of safety. They also listen to patients' health goals and discuss ways to reach them. These physicians then collaborate with the entire care time to ensure they meet patients' needs.

Healthcare continues to focus on delivering more personalized, comprehensive care — it's becoming more important for healthcare providers to address the social drivers of health that directly impact a patient’s well-being. Through the Healthy Start program, our patients and providers form supportive relationships that lead to better health outcomes and quality of life.

Providers who take the time to get to know their patients and their life circumstances are in a better position to make earlier and more accurate treatment decisions. With programs like Healthy Start and a core commitment to addressing SDoH throughout a patient's care journey, we can deliver a higher level of care that ultimately leads to better patient outcomes and a more positive healthcare experience for patients, providers, and health plans.