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Health Care That Targets Unmet Social Needs

Targeting the social determinants of health is a critical piece in improving an individual’s overall well-being and total health, according to an article written by a couple Kaiser Permanente physicians in Southern California. The article appeared recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors say this doesn’t mean Kaiser Permanente should, for instance, build affordable housing for their homeless patients. But it does mean taking on the responsibility for the full scope of their patients’ needs, consistent with Kaiser Permanente’s social mission and business imperative to improve the health of the communities it serves. Kaiser Permanente has begun to bolster that effort by aiming to target their members’ unmet social needs as part of their overall health care. After all, social, environmental, and behavioral factors account for an estimated 60% of health, compared with just 10% from factors traditionally defined as “clinical.” And research shows that nations that focus on food insecurity, housing, transportation, and other “nonmedical” factors spend less overall on health care while improving quality and quantity of life.

 To achieve this goal, Kaiser Permanente is partnering with existing community organizations, identify gaps in linking with those resources, and (in the process) demonstrate the value of directly addressing the social determinants of health.

You can see the article in full here and learn more about a pilot project the organization is doing with Health Leads,  a social enterprise organization that aims “to address all patients’ basic resource needs as a standard part of quality care.”


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