Our health care system is highly effective at treating us when we are sick, but it is not set up to keep us healthy. The sector, however, is undergoing a transformational change where there will be more emphasis health and prevention and less on treatment. This is an exciting moment for our industry as we embark on the future of health—but to get there, industry leaders will need to consider investments in what we see as the underlying social and economic conditions that drive health outcomes.
While stakeholders and government entities continue to invest in treating disease, there tends to be far less focus on the drivers of health, which could help people avoid illness in the first place. Improving the health of a population requires health systems, health plans, not-for-profit health organizations, and government payers to come together in impactful ways to develop strategies and investment approaches that address the drivers of health (also known as social determinants). Increased emphasis on factors that keep us healthy could mean fewer resources need to be devoted to care.
Treating an illness often doesn’t address any of the social and contextual factors that caused it (e.g., limited access to nutritious food, lack of exercise, unsafe or unstable living conditions, poor air quality). A growing number of health care stakeholders (including hospitals and health plans) are beginning to pay closer attention to these drivers of health and their connection to health outcomes. This shift in focus could help drive meaningful, sustainable change that impacts the health of individuals and their communities.
What do consumers want from the health system? In 2018, Rebecca Onie and Rocco Perla, leaders of a venture called The Health Initiative (THI), commissioned a series of research that asked consumers how they would invest their own health care dollars. For every $100, participants said they would spend about $30 on hospitals and clinics. The remaining $70 would be split across various drivers of health (e.g., good-paying jobs, healthy food, affordable housing, childcare, and transportation). The results were similar regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, or political leanings.1