A person’s health is the product of a complex equation that relates our family health history, personal lifestyle choices, and social and environmental factors.
For example, a patient’s chronic cough is treated with a decongestant, even though the real problem is their exposure to irritants at the factory where they work. Or, an elderly man’s back pain is offered pain medication when the actual issue is having to repeatedly climb too many steps in his house.
The connections between social determinants and health make sense, but traditional healthcare systems and benefit strategies are not set up in a way that effectively acknowledges and treats a patient’s whole health.
Understanding the narrow view of traditional healthcare
In traditional fee-for-service models, misaligned incentives create patient-provider interactions that are exceptionally brief. When providers have no time with patients, their only option is to diagnose the issue and send the patient home with a prescription.
When there’s no time to really understand the root cause of the issue, healthcare is only reactionary, never proactive or preventive. Providers should have the time to dive into a patient’s whole health and have the opportunity to explore social determinants that ultimately affect their well-being.
How social determinants affect health
Social determinants are non-medical factors and conditions that impact a person’s health outcomes and overall well-being. These factors can come from a wide range of sources, but are typically tied to a patient’s home life, economic situation, and workplace.
Parents might lack a home support system that would allow them to get to the gym and exercise instead of looking after the kids. Elderly patients trying to maximize their social security benefits might opt to skip filling their medication in order to buy gifts for their grandchildren. Or, a small business owner might mismanage their type 2 diabetes because they can’t find the time to eat healthy and meet deadlines.
Understanding where a patient is coming from is the key to unlocking the path that will lead to better health for them. Our health is as unique as our personality, and healthcare systems have to acknowledge the whole person if they want to improve outcomes.
Taking a holistic approach with advanced primary care
Our advanced primary care model uses empathetic listening, time-rich appointments, and dedicated care teams to gather as much information about a patient as possible.
With these resources in place, providers and patients can form meaningful relationships that lead to honest communication. That line of communication is critical to understand their social determinants.
Once the root causes of a patient’s health issues are understood, providers and health coaches rely on trusted patient relationships to build common goals and work toward them.
By partnering with providers they trust, patients are more likely to engage and follow through with treatments, whether it’s taking medication or adjusting their schedule in a way that allows them time to go to the gym or practice self-care.