The billions of dollars of investments in healthcare technology over the last decade have produced undeniable benefits. With the push towards electronic health records, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that prescribing errors will be reduced by 95 percent. In addition to making healthcare safer for many Americans, healthcare technology has also made the process more efficient – “doctor-on-demand” services proliferate across the internet, promising the availability virtual doctor within minutes and from anywhere in the world. According to Slate Magazine,
However, while the delivery of healthcare by hospitals, doctors, and nursing homes may have improved over the last decade, healthcare technology has not reached its full potential. A growing chorus of medical professionals is pointing to several large blind spots in managing the healthcare of Americans. According to a report by Kaiser Family Foundation, just 10 percent of our health is determined by the care received in a clinical setting – such as a doctor’s office, hospital, or nursing home. The report found that individual circumstances and social factors are the largest determinants, accounting for 60 percent of a person’s health. Genetics account for another 30 percent. This explains why in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, residents of the affluent suburbs live an average of 20 years longer than their lower-income counterparts, who live just blocks away from the same grocery stores and world-class hospitals.
Doctors appear to recognize the need for a more holistic approach to healthcare. According to Slate, four in five pediatricians agreed that “addressing patients’ social needs is as important as addressing their medical conditions.” However, more than 80 percent did not feel confident in their ability to address these outside issues. The pediatricians, understandably, did not feel equipped to ensure their patients outside needs were met in the 15-minute appointment window.
Thankfully, several new projects are attempting to tackle this problem. HIV/AIDS programs have been particularly effective in meeting the social needs of individuals living with the terminal disease. In Baltimore, patients living with HIV or AIDS are assigned a caseworker who helps the patient with any potential transportation or housing issues. In New Jersey, a healthcare group called Camden Coalition came up with the term “healthcare hotspotting” which uses data to identify healthcare trends and needs in a community, allowing communities to allocate their healthcare spending towards the greatest needs in their own local community.
The private sector is beginning to see business opportunities in addressing the social needs of patients, too. Companies like Healthify, Health Leads, and Aunt Bertha are recognizing the need and developing the platforms necessary to respond to a patient’s social needs. These companies’ platforms “track social needs, coordinate referrals, and connect patients to community organizations that can help address issues like affordable housing,” according to Slate Magazine. Accounting for over 60 percent of a patient’s healthcare outcomes, the focus on a patient’s social needs is long overdue. Thankfully, its time may have finally arrived.