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What exactly are social determinants of health?

Posted by Ben Huynh on Apr 5, 2017 4:50:24 PM
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While social determinants of health have become an increasingly popular topic, people don’t always define what that means. Social determinants of health are “the structural determinants and conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.” Commonly used determinants include socioeconomic status, education and social support or lack thereof. 

Recent research suggests that individual behavior (smoking, diet and exercise, etc.) is the most important factor contributing to premature death. Interestingly, while the United States’ total spending on health care and social services is comparable to other Western countries, the United States spends disproportionately more on health care than on social services. This lack of investment in preventative services could explain why health outcomes in the United States still lag behind other developed countries.


It is widely accepted that income disparity is a large barrier to health outcomes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses the following definition of health disparities: “differences in health outcomes that are closely linked with social, economic, and environmental disadvantage.” In the absence of income equality, providers will continue to bear the brunt of this burden.  Not only do socio-behavioral factors impact the risk of premature death, but they also affect the likelihood of developing severe chronic health conditions.

Providers must be able to systematically integrate socio-behavioral data into clinical workflows to improve health outcomes. One solution is a socio-behavioral “companion-diagnostic.” Big data analytics have made significant improvements in recent years so the idea of companion diagnostic like this may not be too far off. With a socio-behavioral companion diagnostic, providers would be empowered to improve health outcomes for the most vulnerable populations while significantly reducing the growth in costs.


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Topics: Medicaid, Social determinants of health

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