By: Ashley Perry, MPH

For many organizations, 2021 proved to be an inflection point in terms of the role that assessing and addressing the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) and social risk has in their business. The observed shift is predicated on transforming a largely mission-driven, often siloed initiative into a core business strategy with the potential to impact performance across business units. It shows no sign of slowing down in 2022, and with that in mind, here are the top five trends for leaders to consider when incorporating SDOH strategies into their business plans over the coming year:

#5. Bipartisan Support for SDOH Bills

Despite sustained Congressional gridlock – both between and within the parties – a number of SDOH-related bills have garnered bipartisan support and are worth keeping an eye on. Top of mind here is the Social Determinants of Health Accelerator Act. The House version of the bill, H.R.2503, was introduced by Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) and is co-sponsored by 41 Democrats and six Republicans. The Senate version, S.3039, was introduced by Senator Todd Young (R-IN) and is co-sponsored by three Democrats. Other bills that address more narrowly-focused SDOH issues, such as the Food Donation Improvement Act (H.R.6251/S.3281), have also generated bipartisan support in both chambers. Most of these bills aim to provide more flexible funding and regulations in addressing SDOH needs and therefore should be monitored over the coming year.

#4. Continued Emphasis on Health Equity

The pandemic illuminated the glaring disparities in healthcare access, cost, quality, and outcomes, and sparked conversations at the national and local levels about the need for a greater emphasis on health equity. As a result, numerous equity-focused initiatives and investments have been announced and started to gain traction both within and between organizations. In the context of effectively addressing SDOH risk and needs, these efforts will require leaders and operational teams to think critically about how social interventions are designed and deployed. They need to ensure these initiatives reach those who will benefit most from them rather than just entrenching existing disparities. For example, we’ve seen too many well-meaning, evidence-based social interventions that exclusively use PCPs as the support entry point and systematically exclude populations that aren’t connected to primary care. We can and must do better in 2022.

#3. Cross-Sector Collaboration & Multi-Factor Interventions

 Social risk is often not limited to a single factor in nature. For example, populations that face an elevated risk for food insecurity are likely to also experience hardships in other domains such as financial strain or health literacy challenges. Organizations are becoming more sophisticated in their understanding of social risk and will look to build off promising models that have emerged in recent years by engaging in cross-sector partnerships and deploying multifactorial interventions in 2022. For example, in the summer of 2021, ProMedica and Lyft’s Social Impact Team worked together to integrate ProMedica’s Food Clinic program with Lyft’s Grocery Access Program to better support Toledo residents impacted by both food insecurity and transportation barriers. These collaborative interventions will become increasingly common in 2022, as more organizations seek to deploy holistic approaches to supporting the social needs of the populations they serve.

#2. Evolving Social Risk Requirements in Managed Medicaid – And Beyond

State Medicaid agencies have increasingly been requiring MCOs to incorporate SDOH and social risk strategies into their contract bids, and this will undoubtedly continue in the coming year. These requirements will likely evolve from foundational capabilities, such as screening and referrals, to more advanced strategies that include coordinated socio-clinical intervention programs, social risk analytics capabilities, risk-based reimbursement models, and more. This trend will also have an impact beyond the Managed Medicaid market, with both benefits brokers and self-funded employers continuing to push health plans to incorporate these strategies into their offerings to remain competitive for commercial contracts.

#1. Increasing Investment in Quantifying ROI to Drive Scalability & Sustainability

Driven in large part by challenges surrounding data collection, access, and integration, many organizations that have invested in social interventions to date struggle to quantify the impact of their programs. This includes key business metrics, such as clinical outcomes, utilization patterns, quality measure attainment, and total cost of care, as well as patient/member engagement, satisfaction, and retention. Organizations are progressively realizing they must establish data partnerships and invest in robust evaluation strategies that enable them to quantify the impact of these programs. As a result, rapid-cycle, real-world evaluations will become an increasingly important SDOH strategy in the coming year to inform organizational decision makers which programs to scale, sustain, or sunset going forward.

For more information about these trends or to learn how Socially Determined’s Social Risk Intelligence™ can help your organization and team prepare, Contact us.

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