The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion describes social determinants of health 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 outcomes and risks.” Our health and wellness isn’t just determined by the medical care we receive when we’re sick. There are many other external factors, or social determinants of health, that can often explain why we get sick, how long we’re sick, and what we do to get healthier.
Here are some of the top social determinants of health and why they are so important:
Socioeconomic status measures a person’s social, economic, and work status. It can have a substantial effect on access to health care as well as healthy (or unhealthy) behaviors. For example, studies have shown that socioeconomic status is linked to a surprising number of employee physical health problems including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer.
Additionally, people with low income status may find it difficult to pay co-payments, deductibles, or other out-of-pocket health care costs, which may prevent them from seeking and receiving care. Because of this, unaddressed medical issues can worsen, eventually requiring more expensive, urgent or emergency care later. When we know an employee’s socioeconomic status, we’re better able to address his/her barriers to care while still providing the medical attention and support that they need.
Access to Care
Where a person lives can also have a big impact on their access to care. People living in rural areas may have to travel further to see a doctor. Without reliable or convenient access to transportation, an employee managing a chronic condition may not keep up with regular appointments. It’s also unlikely that they would go see a doctor when sick due to the associated time, money, and distance.
Knowing the number of employees that live in rural areas can be very helpful when implementing a personalized population health management program. Providing guided programs online or over the phone are excellent options for employees who have limited access to in-person care.
Social Support Networks
It’s also important to understand how support networks, or the lack thereof, impact a person’s overall health and well-being. When people try to reach health care goals, they often lean on friends and family for support and encouragement. It’s also valuable to know what’s available in your community. Having a solid social support network improves the ability to cope with stressful situations and supports active health care participation.
Recognizing and addressing social determinants of health can help employers and providers establish health and wellness programs and policies that better support positive, sustainable behavior change. We work with our clients to truly understand social determinants of health as well as other unique population attributes. This allows us to create customized solutions to best meet the needs of employers and employees.