FEBRUARY 25, 2022

Health Equity

Facing eviction with no time to spare. A man battling multiple complex health conditions suddenly found himself up against that challenge. He was set to be kicked out of his apartment within days for an unpaid bill. How would he be able to focus on improving his health with no roof over his head? The social drivers of health, sometimes called social determinants of health, were suddenly all too real. He needed help and the clock was ticking.  

Fortunately, Anthem’s care coordination team worked quickly to connect this member with community resources. Through that assistance, his bill was paid in the nick of time, he kept his apartment, and with that crisis behind him, he could concentrate on managing his health.  

This member’s urgent need to secure housing is just one scenario where a person’s health can be directly impacted by the social factors they face. At Anthem, we call those factors social drivers of health (SDH).    

Why we’re using the word drivers instead of determinants 

Social drivers, also known as social determinants of health, are conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of-life risks and outcomes. However, “determinants” suggests nothing can be done to change our health fate. By saying social factors drive our health, we reframe the conversation about health. We show that social factors don’t force health to be fated or destined, but rather they are something that people and communities can overcome or change. We stand committed to addressing these factors to increase positive health outcomes.  

How social drivers impact whole health  

Up to 80 percent of health outcomes are influenced by non-clinical factors, such as access to nutritious food, reliable transportation, quality housing, and financial stability – meaning that most of our health is driven by things that happen outside of the doctor’s office. In fact, our health is increasingly determined more by the ZIP code we live in than the doctor we see. But there’s work to be done to help people see and understand social drivers. As explored in our recent report Driving Our Health: A study exploring health perceptions in America, nearly half (46%) of Americans are unaware of the concept of social drivers of health. 

Driving change by broadening our view of health 

Whole health is an approach to healthcare that recognizes health must be evaluated as a bigger picture, one that includes physical, behavioral, and social drivers. We must move beyond the traditional scope of simply addressing physical health and find ways to positively influence behavioral and social drivers of health. This involves a focus on health equity and using data to tailor our efforts to individuals, taking a big picture view of their health needs. Only by understanding this big picture can people start to view their own health as something that is both influenced by the world around them and within their control to shape and change.  

Our What’s Driving Our Health initiative aims to improve Americans’ understanding of whole health and its drivers, and we’re collaborating with local and national partners to build a new system of health.   

“We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to be and stay healthy. This starts by taking a broader view of health and understanding that while the world around you drives your health, you still have control over it. We are looking at the many factors that contribute to individual health and partnering in the smartest ways to improve it,” said Shantanu Agrawal, MD, chief health officer at Anthem.   

We’re calling on everyone to help us seize this moment to deepen our understanding of whole health, what drives it, and how we can make it better. By working together to acknowledge the social drivers of health, we can unstack the deck and advance health equity by design.