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Are Healthcare’s Social Needs Offerings Improving Lives?

By Scott E. Rupp via Multibriefs

A new survey of 300 hospitals and health systems, conducted by Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, claims to show how factors outside the healthcare system affect patients' long-term well-being and what healthcare organizations can do to address these challenges.

The research conducted by the firm was collected from a national survey and shows that the outcomes were structured to identify these leaders' current social needs, activities, investments and potential future efforts, and to "better understand how hospitals and health systems may be operating in the larger healthcare ecosystem and the challenges they face."

According to Deloitte's research, hospitals and health systems appear to be investing in health-related social needs, and the support for such efforts is high. As much as 80 percent or more of respondents said their organization's leadership is "committed to establishing and developing processes to systematically address social needs as part of clinical care."

But these findings might suggest that these activities are still ad hoc (only occasional and only reaching some of the target population).

Gaps, too, are probably prevalent in regard to connecting initiatives that improve health outcomes or reduce costs. Also, per the Deloitte report:

  • hospitals are screening patients and intervening around social needs, though some activity is fragmented
  • the healthcare system's shift toward value-based care may spur more investment and activity around addressing social needs
  • hospital investments vary, and sustainable funding may be a challenge — as funding, or lack thereof, tends to be

Deloitte notes that hospitals and health system leaders must continue providing for the health-related social needs, but this will need more help from others who serve healthcare. For example, the health systems in play here may need to find ways to partner with health plans, federal, state and local governments, and community organizations "to implement initiatives that impact health and quality of life."

"Opportunities to share leading practices, integrate data to help identify needs and measure outcomes, and collaborate on community initiatives will likely be critical to help stakeholders make the most of their efforts," the authors of the Deloitte study wrote.

"Healthcare stakeholders have long recognized that factors outside the healthcare system — the social determinants of health — influence an individual's health and well-being. Many hospitals and health systems are working to navigate the challenges of effectively linking community and clinical services to improve health outcomes in the long term."

Those health system leaders interviewed also said that health-related social needs are the "right thing to do." They fully expect such efforts to continue aligning with value-based care and likely will continue to spur partnerships and innovative solutions, especially if the efforts continue to bear fruit.

Early efforts show that some hospitals are improving health outcomes and the patient experience. However, advanced efforts are required to continue to move in a direction likely to succeed.

For example, advancing the goals of improving health outcomes and reducing costs may require stakeholders to

  • break down silos and consolidate resources (which has long been a wishlist item likely not easily accomplished)
  • move toward value-based models that are pro-social need
  • develop strategies to improve their ability to track health and cost outcomes (no specifics provided in the report)
  • share leading practices and data on other organizations' activities and strategies to direct investments

The point here tends to be a bit innocuous and — unlike a goal that is measurable and completed in a certain amount of time with a specific pre-established outcome — likely has less of a chance for success than if the efforts detailed in the Deloitte report were a bit more actionable.

If nothing else, the report gives us a little something more to consider as we continue other important conversations about reforming healthcare and payments, coverage and improving patient health and lives.

Scott E. Rupp is a writer and an award-winning journalist focused on healthcare technology. He has worked as a public relations executive for a major electronic health record/practice management vendor, and he currently manages his own agency, millerrupp. In addition to writing for a variety of publications, Scott also offers his insights on healthcare technology and its leaders on his site, Electronic Health Reporter.

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