Social Determinants of Health: Back to the Basics
With a new year comes a new outlook on Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) at MTM as we refresh our approach to addressing social determinants in the world of transportation. At MTM, we’re facing SDoH challenges head on, examining how social determinants have evolved over the years—and how they will continue to change in the years to come.
Join us on our SDoH journey this year with our Senior Director of Digital Products Nader Hawit, and continue to learn more about social determinants and the important impact they have on our society.
Social determinants aren’t a new challenge, especially in the world of non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT). It’s a term that’s been around since the 19th century, dating back to the Industrial Revolution when there was a large increase in disease and in poverty. But what does the term mean today, and how has the definition changed over the years?
In short, social determinants of health are individual and community-based social needs that, when left unaddressed, adversely impact health outcomes. They describe instances in which an individual’s social status, income, transportation accessibility, and more factor into their overall health and access to health-related services.
Flip Through the History Books
Dr. Rudolf Virchow, a German physician in the late 1840s, commented on the social meaning behind community health, saying “If medicine is to fulfill her great task, then she must enter the political and social life. Do we not always find the diseases of the populace traceable to defects in society?” Virchow soon started discussions of the topic that we know today as social determinants of health.
It wasn’t until the 1940s that the World Health Organization (WHO) defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.” This is when the scientific community started to address the importance of social determinants, especially its social angle. In a journal from the National Library of Medicine, Seth A. Berkowitz described health-related social needs, a synonym for social determinants of health, as food insecurity, housing instability, lack of transportation, and more that are associated with worsening health outcomes, and are increasingly the focus of interventions within healthcare.
Peeling from Dr. Virchow’s original statement linking social needs and medicine, the definition of social determinants continues to change regularly within the scientific community. Patients’ social needs related to housing, food, safety, and more, can create significant obstacles to high-quality care and contribute to poor health. Ignoring such needs undermines progress and can overwhelm the health systems that ignore them. It is important for companies to address social determinants. New market entrants, whether by new product line or dedicated business models, addressing Social Determinant gaps help spur innovation, make a meaningful impact on communities, and create competition toward scalable tech-enabled products. A culmination of multiple forces has acted as a springboard for health-related social needs advancement:
- The growth of data capture and analytic processing technology has enabled a scalable approach to insights that have fueled the need for change.
- A large magnitude of impact on health from life changing experiences, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have changed everyday services such as grocery and meal delivery.
- There has been a large aging population wave, and the majority want to age in place.
- Early policy changes present alternative funding mechanisms.
- CMS’s health equity framework and SDoH screening measures, although most providers are unable to adequately address the identified needs.
MTM Takes a Stand
Repositioning social determinants of health is critical for industry leaders, policy makers, and consumers. Ongoing messaging about what social determinants are—and what they are not—along with the impact to our health ecosystem supports awareness and acknowledgement of the problem. Combining this awareness with messaging around the positive evidence-driven outcomes when social determinants are addressed drives both business and policy momentum. This leads to our desired change of healthy empowered communities.
Our job at MTM is to take the traditional definition of social determinants of health and continue to explore the meaning behind the social angle, working to improve health outcomes for communities nationwide. Next month, tune back in to learn how our NEMT services approach social determinants head on, as we discuss our screening process and the importance behind effective and ethical screening practices.