- Patients who received help meeting basic socioeconomic needs like food, shelter and medications saw “modest but subsequent” improvements in certain cardiovascular risk factors, new research shows.
- The study — by investigators from Massachusetts General Hospital and Health Leads — found that participation in Health Links led to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, the research offers some of the first real evidence that social needs interventions improve outcomes.
“We know that unmet basic resource needs for things like nutritious food, housing, transportation and medication are very common and are associated with poor health outcomes,” Seth Berkowitz, corresponding author of the study, said in a statement. “We offered the Health Leads program at several of our internal medicine practices for the past few years, but we did not yet know whether this strategy for addressing unmet needs would lead to changes in clinical outcomes.
The researchers looked at the cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar of more than 5,000 patients seen at three Massachusetts General between October 2013 and April 2015. All were screened for unmet needs, and 1,774 were found to have at least one. Of those, 1,021 enrolled in the Health Leads intervention, receiving on average five contacts with advocates over a one to two month period.
At the end of the study, patients with hypertension who enrolled in Health Leads had bigger drops in systolic and diastolic blood pressure than those who didn’t participate in the program. They also saw greater reductions in LDL “bad” cholesterol levels.
However, there was no real difference in blood sugar levels in Health Leads participants with diabetes and others in the study — a result, perhaps, of the role medication plays in controlling blood sugar, Berkowitz suggested. While advocates can help people access drug therapies, it’s harder to affect a person’s dietary habits, he told Modern Healthcare.
In an accompanying opinion piece, Ashley McMullen, at University of California San Francisco, and Mitchell Katz, with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said addressing social needs “with the same intention as chronic disease represents a tangible reality for all members of society.”
In January, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a $157 million pilot program to link Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries with social service groups in an attempt to see if doing so improves health and lowers costs.
As healthcare organizations transition to value-based care, more are reaching across sectors to partner with community organizations, agencies, academia and others to advance public health.