Overcoming Social Determinants to Health Care Benefits All

Amelia Edwards
May 30, 2017

Overcoming Social Determinants to Health Care Benefits All

This week we have our first guest author on our blog, Eric Conner from Healthify. Conner is a graduate of John Hopkins University where he spent two years helping patients navigate health and community support systems in east Baltimore.

Taking that passion forward, he co-founded Healthify with Manik Bhat, Dan Levenson, and Alex Villa in 2013 with "the premise that that better health outcomes can be achieved by addressing the social determinants of health". Today, Healthify is a leading software provider to hospitals, health plans, and provider networks in low-income communities. Their platform enables care providers to easily search, track, and communicate with community resources to help eliminate the gap in the referral process.

Conner focused his guest article for this week on how overcoming social determinants to health care provide a benefit to everyone in the community.

“Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves” — Horace Mann

After a succession of budget cuts to her mid-sized city’s public transportation system, Susan is now isolated just beyond its reach. The retiree’s closest bus stop sits nearly a mile away, through an area where she does not feel safe walking by herself, day or night. Her children, and grandchildren, have relocated out of the area, and the bus is all she can afford these days.

As a senior struggling to stay on the winning side in a lifelong battle with diabetes, her bus line was a lifeline to a very regular schedule of doctors’ appointments, medical check-ins, and activities to keep her mind and body active. The next few months for Susan and her healthcare providers represent a very serious moment of a life at the crossroads.

Will healthcare providers be able to steer Susan toward new solutions and remain on a path of good health? Or will Susan be forced by these unfortunate circumstances to take a turn that will increase her isolation and lead to a deterioration of her health and overall quality of life?

Susan’s situation is more common than it should be, and the list of social determinants facing so many in our society is extensive. Whether it’s transportation, poverty, race, gender identification, sexual preference, violence, education, housing, limited outdoor space, or even no leisure time, these barriers and biases have profound impact on achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Studies and reports abound on the specific influences these social determinants have on many vulnerable populations. For example, black Americans are 77% more likely than white Americans to be diagnosed with diabetes. And black women with breast cancer are almost 40% more likely to die from the disease than white women. Asthma’s prevalence among families at or below the poverty line jumps significantly compared to those families above the poverty line. And nearly 20% of 6,000 transgender people surveyed said they had been denied care due to the gender identification.

These gaps in providing high-quality health care for all people are a main reason that U.S. life expectancy continues to lag behind other developed nations. It is also a significant driver of the high costs we pay for healthcare.

At Healthify, our origins come from working on the frontlines fighting these disparities in health care. We’ve experienced firsthand the frustration, and worse, the feeling of helplessness, that clinicians and staff too often face trying to determine and coordinate available services for their most vulnerable patients. We’ve struggled with searching through antiquated paper binders for referral materials, and knew there had to be a better way to help our patients.  

We created Healthify with the goal of using the best that software had to offer in order to help the most vulnerable in our communities access the care they need and deserve. Healthify enables care teams to search, track, and coordinate with community resources to effectively close-the-loop in the referral process.

Health care is in the midst of a sea change. The introduction of new technologies and innovative thinking are facilitating greater collaboration and creating thoughtful efficiencies that are leading to improved outcomes. As we make strides forward, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that those improvements don’t serve to only widen existing gaps. Without the advancement and holistic integration of community services, we all lose. We lose the vibrancy of healthy communities and face a short-term fix of expensive emergency care and extended hospital stays.

For Susan’s caregivers to treat the whole patient, they require innovative and effective solutions at their fingertips. Our job as innovators in healthcare technology must be to keep Susan connected to the care she needs. That work benefits not just people like Susan, but all of us.

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