A new Georgetown University Health Policy Institute brief highlighted how addressing social determinants of health can lower healthcare costs, improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities.
In other related news, a recent report from Indiana University said researchers were able to effectively predict the need for mental health and dietitian referrals between 60% and 75% of the time by using clinical and community data.
Also, Health Partners Plans (HPP), a Medicaid managed care payer based in Philadelphia said it reduced blood glucose levels for diabetic patients and reduced utilization for chronically ill members through the Food-as-Medicine program.
The Georgetown University report is the latest to suggest that Medicaid could play a key leadership role to broaden healthcare beyond a doctor’s office and tackle social, economic and environmental conditions.
Healthcare leaders have increasingly grown to understand the role that SDOH like housing, food and transportation play into a person’s health.
It can also lead to health disparities and inequities and impact the health of low-income children and families.
Much like a similar report by the National Quality Forum (NQF) in January, the Georgetown brief promoted Medicaid as an entity that can take the lead to address such issues.
Adding optional Medicaid benefits, integrating data systems and incorporating SDOH in screening and care delivery are ways to help reduce disparities were among the recommendations.
However, the federal and state governments need to invest in social safety net programs for housing, nutrition, transportation and cash assistance, according to the brief.
“It is important to advocate for initiatives that focus not only on high-cost populations with complex medical needs, but also on low-income children and their families where early investments can lead to long-term results including greater economic success and independence as adults,” according to the brief.
Meanwhile, in Indiana, a study reviewed a program that integrated patient clinical data and community-level SDOH data from multiple sources. With that information, they found they could predict mental health and dietitian referrals.
“The need for various social service referrals can be predicted with considerable accuracy using a wide range of readily available clinical and community data that measure socioeconomic and public health conditions,” they wrote.
However, the researchers acknowledged that using the such information didn't “result in significant performance improvements.”
In Philadelphia, HPP highlighted success in a partnership with the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance. The Food-as-Medicine program provides medically tailored meals three times a day to chronically ill Medicaid and dual eligible members. More than 530,000 meals have been delivered to more than 2,000 people. HPP members also receive nutrition counseling and care management to help them manage their illness.
The report found that blood-glucose levels for 26% of diabetic members in the program decreased. Food-as-Medicine participants also used medical services less. Inpatient admissions dropped 28%, ER visits decreased 7%, primary care visits fell 16% and specialist visits dropped 7%, according to the report.