Your neighborhood. Your job. Your income. They are part of your daily experience, and they may factor into your health. The Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement estimates that socioeconomic factors – often referred to as social determinants of health – could account for up to 40 percent of your overall health. These social determinants can include structural factors like income and education, as well as intermediary factors such as access to healthy food, high-quality healthcare, and social support. Social determinants of health have gained widespread recognition as critical elements of healthcare and health outcomes. And health plans, providers, and public payers are incorporating assessments and interventions into care delivery and offering benefits to better address these factors. By understanding how individuals view and talk about social determinants, payers and providers alike can identify new and improved ways to engage with them to address gaps in care based on their unique circumstances.

Analysis Examines Conversations about Social Determinants

The Anthem Public Policy Institute (PPI) partnered with research platform Quid to better understand how individuals perceive social determinants, and how that compares to the way academics and journalists – what we refer to as the public – talk about social determinants. Anthem PPI and Quid examined academic papers, news articles, and posts and comments from patient forums focused on cancer, diabetes, and mental health to learn more about how these audiences talk about these factors. The findings of their report, Bridging Gaps to Build Healthy Communities, suggest that consumers, researchers, and the media see and talk about social determinants differently, and there may be more opportunities for health plans, providers, and health systems to better support the personalized needs of individuals.

The analysis revealed that individuals are more interested in those intermediary socioeconomic factors – food access, social support, and access to high-quality care – that may be more easily modifiable. Separately, conversations among academics and journalists are more focused on structural factors, such as education, which require additional resources and time to tackle.

About a quarter of consumers’ conversations about social determinants were about social support, while academic papers addressed the issue much less frequently. People used patient forums to express both the positive aspects of receiving social support and the negative implications of not receiving help or feeling isolated.

Individual Needs Vary by Condition

Individuals with mental health conditions were less likely to have the social support they needed, expressing a struggle to share their experiences. Only 20 percent of patient forum posts on social support by those with mental health conditions were positive. Those with mental health conditions also shared concerns about their ability to find a job and disclose their mental health condition to an employer. While posts across all of the patient forums included in the analysis expressed concern with maintaining a healthy diet, a quarter of the posts on the diabetes patient forum focused on food, with an emphasis on finding adequate access to healthy foods. Among posts focused on the healthcare system, individuals with cancer were most interested in finding the best facility for specialized care while those with mental health conditions expressed concern with finding convenient and accessible care during times of crisis.

The Anthem PPI-Quid analysis highlights opportunities to address socioeconomic factors that contribute to individuals’ overall health and wellbeing. It also demonstrates the interconnectedness between various social determinants, such as income level and the ability to buy healthy food, or access to transportation and the ability to find social support.

Payers, providers, and health systems can use this information to take steps to deliver a simpler, more personalized healthcare experience, including:

  • Strengthening communities’ ability to provide healthy food, adequate transportation, and more.
  • Increasing their ability to connect consumers with social support resources.
  • Integrating clinical and social data to develop targeted interventions.

By better understanding how consumers view social determinants and their role in their health, payers and providers can identify opportunities to address gaps in care and engage more effectively with members and individuals.

You can read the full read report here: Bridging Gaps to Build Healthy Communities.