Our Thinking


Make telehealth a priority in 2018 to overcome SDOH

By Jessica Robinson

There's a concept in healthcare that is gaining a lot of traction lately, and you're sure to hear it frequently discussed in 2018. The concept is called social determinants of health (SDOH) and it's especially popular among accountable care organizations (ACOs) and other clinically integrated networks pursuing population health management (PHM) goals. We recently wrote an article on the topic which appeared on the HISTalk web site, which you can read here.

Very broadly, SDOH are the non-clinical-care factors that can prevent your patients from adhering to care plans and reaching their personal health goals. These obstacles may include housing instability, lack of reliable transportation or physical limitations that prevent them from visiting their physicians or getting to the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions.

Overcoming these obstacles starts with forming a more holistic view of your patients and then using available care tools, such as telehealth, to support their journey. With telehealth's growing acceptance among patients and providers, 2018 may just be the year to add it to your array of services.

Social determinants make an impact
One of the reasons SDOH are creating more of a buzz is that the industry is starting to grasp the impact on patients' health. For example, according to a recent report by Health Rosetta Institute, 40 percent of clinical outcomes are determined by social and economic factors, while 30 percent are due to patient behaviors and 10 percent attributed to the physical environment, such as transportation and housing. That leaves only 20 percent of outcomes that are driven by direct clinical care.

Telehealth presents a major opportunity to help change behaviors and overcome obstacles in the patients' physical environment, the most immediate of which are transportation challenges. Allowing patients to remain in their home to receive care, eliminates that hardship while also enabling them access care and education from nothing more than a smartphone.

Learning more about patients
Determining if patients have any social or economic determinants that may influence their outcomes is as simple as asking some basic, but pertinent questions, such as:

  • Do they have reliable transportation?
  • What is their typical work and/or childcare schedule?
  • How many times have moved in past five years?

Once that data is gathered, it can be aggregated with medical histories and other clinical information and analyzed using proprietary algorithms that power a wholly integrated PHM platform to help care managers identify and monitor patients who may need additional support. That insight might reveal that a patient is an ideal candidate for a telehealth-augmented care plan. Regardless, PHM and telehealth platform integration is critical to ensure efficiency and that providers have seamless access to enterprise-wide data at point of virtual care.

Hit the ground running
To maximize the telehealth impact and introduce patients to the services, your organization could schedule a home visit with a nurse or clinical support staff member in conjunction with a simultaneous virtual visit. The patient can then ask questions, obtain needed care-plan guidance immediately and understand how they can utilize your organization's telehealth services.

After the initial visit, patients can more easily adhere to the telehealth-augmented plan designed for them while providers identify and help overcome obstacles related to SDOH. As a result, your organization and begin to erode some of the social and economic determinants that are preventing your patients from achieving their desired outcomes.

[CTA:] To learn more about how telehealth and population health management work hand-in-hand to overcome SDOH obstacles, read our full article here.

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