Plenty of conversations are underway in the healthcare industry’s boardrooms and executive offices about issues that have been brought into sharper focus and the opportunities to do better. Social determinants of health—understanding them, coming to grips with decades of miscommunication and prejudice about them, and addressing them—are certainly high on the list of topics to tackle.
It’s a big undertaking to devote resources to improving a patient’s life outside the exam room. Just think about the typical question a nurse or doctor asks when they walk in: “What brings you here today?” In many communities, the first question could be about the transportation challenges involved in getting to that appointment, whether the patient had a meal that day, or their housing stability.
As Dr. Anand Shah, vice president of social health at Kaiser Permanente, puts it, improving health through an understanding of social needs is part of creating “a new normal experience.”
“Healthcare organizations seeing the real cost of these economic inequities have a unique voice that we can bring to the table,” he said.
Kaiser is one of a growing number of organizations taking action. In 2018, it launched a $200 million social impact investment fund to address community health needs by focusing on affordable housing. In April, the Oakland, California-based health system doubled the size of the fund, with the goal of creating and preserving 30,000 units of affordable housing before 2030.
Training future clinicians to treat patients holistically, as Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Robert Garrett details in this issue’s Getting it Done column, is another step forward.
Shah was among many industry leaders who spoke last week during Modern Healthcare’s Social Determinants of Health Symposium. Reporter Kara Hartnett will share highlights from those sessions in the Sept. 5 issue of our magazine. The daylong event provided a very real assessment of the hard work facing the industry. But it was also uplifting to learn about the efforts taking place. One theme that quickly emerged: To do better, all sectors must pool their resources and expertise, and they can’t just offer services to communities. They must work with communities to devise and implement solutions.
The Joint Commission will be paying attention to the progress. Beginning Jan. 1, to reduce disparities, it will apply new and revised requirements to organizations in its ambulatory healthcare, behavioral health, human services and hospital accreditation programs.