Addressing social determinants of health and their impact on health outcomes
24 Jan 2022
In recent years, a growing number of individuals and organizations have focused their attention on Social Determinants of Health (SDoH). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines SDoH as “the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” In 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) identified health equity as a central part of its national quality strategy, and the organization is now considering adopting “standardized federal measures to assess SDoH.”
Ensuring that all populations, including those most vulnerable and those that have historically been underserved, feel supported and empowered to take control of their health can yield incredible benefits for an entire community. Plus, doing so allows managed care organizations (MCOs) to provide better customer service, attract new customers from different geographies and locales, and ultimately improve health outcomes.
Disparities in access lead to disparities in outcomes
When analyzing SDoH and their role in health outcomes, it’s first important to ask why specific disparities matter. Why are there disparities in health outcomes among people of different races? Why are there disparities in health outcomes between the general population and those who have certain disabilities? Why are some geographies and neighborhoods more prone to adverse health effects than others?
Fundamentally, these inequities are often rooted in issues of access. A lack of access to funds can preclude people of lower socioeconomic status from seeking early preventive care. People who live in certain remote regions may lack physical access to quality healthcare centers. People in certain communities may lack access to healthy food options, help with your back pain relief, clean air and water, and safe schools and workplaces. And finally—crucially—people in vulnerable populations may be missing access to critical information that could allow them to take better control of their health.
Access to understandable information is critical
People with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), for example, may be negatively affected by a lack of access to information in several ways:
- A lack of information about preventive health measures can delay acute and chronic conditions treatment
- Confusion about benefits/enrollment can lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities for controlled and improved care
- A decreased ability to communicate effectively with healthcare providers and MCOs can reduce engagement
- Non-comprehension of treatment plans can lead to noncompliance, leading to adverse health outcomes and readmissions.
It’s therefore critical that MCOs and care providers ensure that all populations can access information and communicate effectively with their members and patients.
Improving access and equitability of communications for improved health outcomes
To help address disparities among various groups, MCOs and healthcare providers must communicate clearly across languages and ability barriers at all points. A weak link anywhere in the chain could lead to confusion, disengagement, and poor health outcomes. To comply and be positioned at a better competitive level, MCOs and providers must consider the accessibility of information at the following key areas:
- Enrollment. Organizations need to ensure that clear, easy-to-understand enrollment documentation is available in multiple languages, so LEP members can select the health plans that work best for them with greater levels of confidence.
- Marketing. MCOs should ensure their marketing materials are available to numerous audiences, not only to address equity issues, but also to attract and engage with different prospective members. That may necessitate the translation of brochures, website content, blog posts, and other resources into multiple languages and formats.
- The Digital Experience. In an increasingly digital world, MCOs and providers need to ensure that people who speak different languages and those of different ability levels can easily navigate their websites and digital portals. That means these organizations need to create a frictionless digital experience for all members and patients, regardless of their primary language or their visual and hearing ability.
- Clinical Information. Providers must focus on offering comprehensive translation and interpretation services in clinical settings, so patients can receive the help they need in their language of choice both via phone and in a clinical environment. Doing so not only endows the patient with greater autonomy in decision-making about their healthcare; it also reduces the likelihood of noncompliance with treatment plans and costly hospital readmissions.
It all starts with access
MCOs and healthcare providers face multiple challenges in addressing SDoH and creating a more just and equitable healthcare system. When disparities are so systemic, it can be challenging to know where to start.
It starts with access. Providing access to information across languages, abilities and geographies is a clear, defined way MCOs and providers can begin to realize more equitable outcomes.
RWS can help. Our solutions and expertise help MCOs and healthcare providers meet their translation, accessibility and compliance needs and enable them to deliver all member and patient communications that are both culturally appropriate and compliant with regulatory accessibility standards and timelines, across formats and platforms.
The result? An organization that provides better, more personalized service to its members and patients—and a community that is collectively empowered to take control of its healthcare.