The coronavirus pandemic afflicted the US healthcare industry at a time when it was already experiencing rising rates of chronic disease, doctor burnout, and staff shortages—but it especially took a toll on some of the most vulnerable, at- risk communities across the country.
Widening health disparities are leading healthcare payers and providers to broaden the scope of health-influencing factors they address to include social determinants of health (SDOH), like income and access healthy food. But how do tech and digital transformation play into this?
Learn how emerging tech companies have assisted SDOH healthcare players, and how the pandemic has affected these initiatives.
What are social determinants of health (SDOH)?
Social determinants of health (SDOH) are non-medical, economic and environmental conditions that both directly and indirectly impact one’s health, like access to transportation and nutritious food. SDOH analytics show that these conditions influence health inequities and have a massive effect on population health outcomes.
While care received in medical facilities can account for approximately 10% to 20% of health outcomes, the remaining 80% to 90% can be attributed to SDOH.
Examples of social determinants of health according to the CDC include:
- Affordable housing
- Education, both early childhood and higher ed
- Healthy food
- Local emergency health services and clinics
- Health coverage
- Local parks and playgrounds
- Social integration
SDOH Industry Trends & COVID’s Impact
The pandemic has exacerbated nonclinical health disparities, like the examples listed above, that are negatively affecting health outcomes—forcing healthcare companies to recognize and learn from the latest SDOH statistics.
The number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants increased in nearly all US states across the pandemic’s duration. And the pandemic affected certain cohorts—seniors, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Black Americans—more severely.
In response to various SDOH trends and imbalances, digital health vendors have jumped at the opportunity to unite healthcare stakeholders with the tools needed to tackle SDOH. Healthcare organizations are providing support services, coordinating with community organizations, and offering health risk assessments.
Additionally, the rise in preventable chronic conditions, shift to value-based care, and consumer interest in digital health tech, are encouraging payers and hospitals to team up with SDOH-focused software developers.
Examples of SDOH Technology
Tech and digital health companies are leveraging their computing power to help healthcare incumbents comprehend and address SDOH data. Digital platforms and SDOH screening tools can help healthcare players engage with patients, aggregate data in a central spot, and leverage algorithms to craft personalized interventions.
Below are two startups Insider Intelligence highlights in its Social Determinants of Health Report:
- Cityblock Health: Cityblock’s system integrates with electronic health records (EHRs) to help patients avoid hospital visits by flagging social barriers that could be burdening their health. Cityblock Health more than doubled its revenues and membership since last year.
- Unite Us: Unite Us develops software that screens patients for unaddressed social factors and refers them to resources that can improve outcomes. The startup recently expanded its Unite Louisiana, which now includes CVS Health, Ochsner Health, and Humana.
Companies participating in SDOH strategy
There are several tech companies that have tapped the healthcare industry—offering services that range from wearable devices, to providing rides to local healthcare facilities. Some of the US’ largest tech companies—Google, Alexa, Apple, Uber, and Lyft—are leveraging technology to help payers and patients enhance health outcomes.
For example, Google released its machine learning-enabled Healthcare Natural Language API in November 2019, which can be used to take SDOH data and turn it into actionable insights for doctors. And with Fitbit under its roof, the breadth of SDOH-focused projects Google could be involved in will likely expand.
Comparatively, Uber and Lyft address issues associated with insufficient transportation—lack of access to reliable transportation impedes patients’ access to care and costs the US healthcare system an estimated $150 billion annually.
Uber and Lyft have partnered with healthcare facilities to ensure patients can make their scheduled appointments. And these partnerships are paying off for both patients and payers:
- Lyft: CareMore Health System, which manages Medicare Advantage and Medicaid populations in select states, partnered with Lyft to enable caregivers to schedule rides for their patients and saw more than $1 million in savings in one year.
- Uber: Boston Medical Center experienced a similar result, reporting $500,000 in transportation savings by leveraging Uber’s NEMT services.
SDOH Impact on the Future of Healthcare
SDOH data has influenced healthcare organizations to connect patients with the necessary resources to ensure good health, and tech companies play an instrumental role in accomplishing this.
Over the past five years, traditional healthcare organizations have started incorporating digital programs that tackle SDOH, and this trend will likely continue. Last year, 93% of US payers and 95% of US hospitals captured SDOH when interacting with patients.
Many factors are fueling the need for traditional healthcare players to connect patients with resources that address SDOH—but the unifying factor is the industry wide shift to preventative versus reactive care and acceptance of digital health technology.
Insider Intelligence’s Social Determinants of Health Report covers factors driving the industry push to address SDOH, dives into specific startups addressing SDOH via health tech, outlines tech companies on the periphery of healthcare, and discusesses the barriers to successful implementation of SDOH initiatives.
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