Social Determinants of Health: The New Healthcare Frontier?

SDOH meeting

Clinical care might account for less than 20 percent of a patient’s overall health outcome — which is why healthcare startups are working to address social determinants of health (SDOH).

Recent innovations in medical research have found that socioeconomic factors can be even more important than genetics in influencing a person’s health. In fact, a simple overview of life expectancy statistics in the United States shows that the richest Americans are expected to live ten to fifteen years longer than the poorest.

Though inequalities in life expectancy are less significant in most other developed countries, large gaps still exist throughout the industrialized world. But what causes this massive discrepancy? Limited access to healthcare facilities, environmental health risks, lack of access to healthy foods, and chronic stress often disproportionately affect the poor. These socioeconomic factors can have a significant impact on a person’s health — and by extension their life expectancy. 

An emerging field of healthcare policy called Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) is working to address these inequalities. Here’s what healthcare providers need to know about improving patient outcomes through SDOH. 

Health in All Policies

According to a recent study, clinical healthcare might determine only about 20 percent of overall health outcomes. The remaining share of outcomes is influenced by a variety of socioeconomic factors, including education, lifestyle, insurance capability, and physical environment. Industry leaders are now recognizing that SDOH-informed care is both a highly impactful, and potentially profitable, area of service. 

Despite the impact of SDOH, the majority of government healthcare funding currently goes toward in-clinic solutions. SDOH could potentially foster a market worth trillions of dollars, and entrepreneurs are taking note. 

Emergent SDOH startups are focusing on a diverse array of services outside of traditional clinical settings. While it’s true that many SDOH factors are dependent on public policy, innovative new companies have found plenty of private-sector areas for growth. For instance, startups are incorporating social support programs into healthcare costs, providing consultations for hard-to-reach clients, and establishing SDOH data tracking systems. 

The Next Generation of Health Technology

The startup world is bringing innovation to SDOH solutions — and these advancements are beginning to carry over into clinical care. For instance, Phoenix-based Solera Health has teamed up with Blue Cross Blue Shield to incorporate community service providers as part of BCBS’s covered care. Solera is also working to identify nationwide food deserts — areas where it is difficult to buy high-quality, fresh food — and using BCBS’s resources to emphasize SDOH care in affected places. 

UniteUs is another SDOH startup working to make a difference. This organization connects patients to local and county-level resources, so people can gain the most immediate and effective access to social support systems. UniteUs also enlists community partners to enhance behavioral healthcare, providing healthy lifestyle support through local organizations. CityBlock Health, another startup that focuses on localized services, connects patients to neighborhood support hubs which provide access to physicians, social workers, and care managers. 

How Can Healthcare Providers Adapt? 

With the increase in patient-centric care, healthcare providers are already beginning to incorporate SDOH into their services. The move towards patient centricity encourages providers to reach patients where they are by using digital tools like smartphone apps and personalized portals. 

As healthcare becomes more patient-centric and value-based, providers will have more opportunities to incorporate SDOH into their services. Medical practices that are not as well-versed in SDOH can look to startups to serve as an example or even intermediary between providers and patients. Ultimately, SDOH startups and healthcare organizations can work together to address inequalities and improve patient outcomes.