By Ryan G. Bosch, MD, FACP, Socially Determined

The global healthcare industry and the populations we serve have been through the most challenging time in recent history due to the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. As leaders across the healthcare information and technology ecosystem gather at the annual HIMSS Conference on August 9-13 in Las Vegas, we will share critical information and ideas that have the potential to transform how we better treat and support communities that need our help the most. 

As a long-time advocate and member of HIMSS, I share its mission to improve healthcare quality, safety, cost-effectiveness, and access through the best use of information technology and management systems. HIMSS has been an important proponent of the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) and the impact these factors have on overall care and outcomes. Over the past 16 months, healthcare inequities exposed by the pandemic have increased the focus on social determinants even more. While we have made remarkable progress, the healthcare industry and the U.S. government must immediately push for a greater understanding of SDOH and the impact social risk has on health outcomes to improve healthcare for underserved populations. 

To accelerate this learning process, I worked with HIMSS leaders to publish the Social Determinants of Health Guide. This foundational guide analyzes the factors that impact the social determinants of health and relays how health systems and other organizations can improve how they use socioeconomic data to provide better healthcare to millions of people at scale. It offers insight on important, timely topics such as the relationship between social care and medical care, the impact on individual health, community, and population health, and how these issues affect the healthcare systems’ return-on-their investment, among others.   

As a practicing physician and a member of the HIMSS SDOH Task Force, I believe this guide will help hospitals and health systems think differently about social programs while gaining a better understanding of how SDOH can improve return-on-investment for their organizations. Many have misconceptions of the business impact social risk can have when integrated into a holistic strategic plan. This lack of insight has hurt some health systems and prevented them from unlocking the positive financial results of addressing the socio-clinical needs of individuals and populations at scale. Caring for underserved communities is not a charity business – it is an important core business now more than ever. When addressing social determinants of health becomes a measured health system investment, they can realize the positive impact of a value-based care transition and how investment in SDOH data and analytics serves as key revenue generator. 

Sharing insights on the impact of SDOH will be one of the most important conversations we will have at this year’s HIMSS conference. In fact, there will be a session devoted to this topic called SDOH: From Charity Expense to Repeatable ROI on Monday, August 9 at 11:15 AM PST that health system leaders and other influencers should attend. This session will be led by two executives from ProMedica – Brian Miller, MD and CMIO and Rachel Krausman, VP, National Strategy and Partnerships – who we’ve worked closely with on SDOH initiatives. ProMedica – a mission-based, not-for-profit integrated healthcare organization serving communities across 30 states – has pioneered an innovative approach to SDOH programs that should be replicated by others.

As part of this session, Dr. Miller and Ms. Krausman will show how analytics can be systematically applied upstream to an entire at-risk population to discern the precise subpopulation in need, and downstream to measure community engagement and magnify interventions that maximize business ROI in an ongoing and replicable manner.   

In the current status quo, SDOH is treated like an expense at most health systems, grouped on the financial ledger with items like unreimbursed care and community benefit funds to fill a community service need, support a hospital’s engagement theme or fulfill the obligations for community leadership to exhibit good will. There are often dozens of programs spread across geographies and local hospital budgets, often costing thousands of dollars annually, with the ultimate cost to health systems amounting to millions.  

Often, health systems lack the ability to measure the impact of these scattered social programs on outcomes or costs, leaving them no way of knowing what programs really impact their business. Dr. Miller and Ms. Krausman will talk about their experience taking a more targeted, purposeful, and complete approach that produces significant ROI which will become especially important as health systems adopt more value-based payment arrangements. They will show how SDOH programs can move from being an expense to flourishing as a strategic, revenue-generating imperative.   

This is a session you won’t want to miss. If you are attending HIMSS, I would love to connect with anyone interested in learning more about the value of SDOH programs and how to use data and analytics to maximize business ROI in the most meaningful ways possible. This is an important dialogue that we need to have as we shape the next generation of healthcare.   


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