by Jeff Bennett, CEO, Higi and David Wenger, CEO, Bridge Connector
As we start a new decade, stakeholders in health care should ask ourselves if we are treating patients as effectively as possible given the technology and resources available. Specifically, are we treating the factors that have the greatest impact on patient lives with the clinical precision they deserve?
It’s difficult to answer that question in the affirmative given that social determinants of health (SDoH) – conditions that result from limited access to proper housing, nutrition, transportation or employment – impact more than two-thirds of patients in the U.S. and are responsible for up to 90 percent of an individual’s health outcomes.
But the current health care system lacks clear, established means to effectively treat SDoH as a medical condition.
While the industry agrees SDoH collectively affect population health more than any other factor, we are still developing strategies for prevention and treatment. Data interoperability is a key piece of the puzzle, and we first must determine how to get important patient data into the hands of payers, providers and community leaders — not just by moving that data around but by integrating it so caregivers can take action during patient interactions. Only then will it empower stakeholders to develop innovative and individualized strategies for SDoH. By putting the right information in the right hands, we will better manage SDoH and make significant strides in improving patient outcomes and lowering costs.
Acknowledging the complexity of SDoH, we have outlined three steps that would represent a strong start in improving our current methods for treatment.
Health risks come from outside the four walls of a hospital. Therefore, we need to find imaginative treatment models in the same vein as telehealth that bring care to patients. In the age of smart devices and the consumerization of health care, convenience plays a significant role in care accessibility – patients no longer want to go through the antiquated process of scheduling an appointment and traveling to the doctor’s office or hospital.
For inspiration, health care can look to consumer trends and how mobile applications have improved convenience in areas such as shopping and ride hailing. For example, allowing patients to self-report SDoH effects in a judgment-free, private setting, such as through an app on a smart device, could significantly improve SDoH treatment. Health care historically trails consumer brands in this area, but with behemoths like Amazon, Apple and Google focusing on various health care initiatives, the care delivery landscape is rapidly changing.
The age we live in has afforded health care companies a variety of ways to gather patient data, but it only provides true value to the patient if it’s actionable. For instance, placing a health engagement platform that allows consumers to measure and share biometric and risk assessment data in the pharmacies and community centers they visit regularly can play a key role in proactively identifying the adverse effects of SDoH.
Higi Smart Health Stations are one such example. The devices not only track biometric data, but users can opt in to share information about their current socioeconomic situation, such as employment status or food security, in exchange for available, free and low-cost support and resources. They can also opt in to share that information with appropriate health care stakeholders, allowing them to take immediate action if needed, and identify local population trends.
In one underserved community, where the local health system was challenged to support patients at the preventative stage of their condition, the placement of Higi Smart Health Stations indicated over 70% of users had blood pressure measurements in the hypertensive range, with nearly 10% registering in hypertensive crisis. By acting on this data, the health system was able to immediately treat the patients in crisis to avoid a major health event, such as a stroke or heart attack. They could prioritize the treatment of the remaining at-risk patients, getting their blood pressure under control before their condition worsened. The program allowed the health system to fulfill its mission and reach patients at a stage that allowed for easier and more cost-effective care.
While data silos and interoperability challenges between data systems continue to limit our ability to capitalize on insights found in patient data, a new wave of innovation has opened the lines of communication. Integration software is reshaping the industry by enabling more information sharing and making patient information more accessible than ever.
For example, integration platforms as a service (iPaaS) easily, cheaply and effectively create automatic, bi-directional connections between almost any data platform – including third-party solutions such as Higi Smart Health Stations and the workflows that health care companies rely on to take action on behalf of their patients. Interoperability challenges have historically limited data-sharing because of the high costs, lengthy system downtime and tedious upkeep. However, new vendor-agnostic solutions such as Bridge Connector’s that can pull information from any patient data source enable the creation of a true interoperability layer – meaning providers can access all the data they need, at any time, across care settings, making that data truly actionable.
A connected model of patient data means social services providers can relay relevant health information just as easily as another health care provider, elevating SDoH-related issues to a clinical level of treatment.
2020 is the perfect time to ask if the status quo and traditional models of treatment can address complex patient needs, including SDoH. Forward-thinking companies that adjust to patient needs and make accessing care easier – in the same way consumer companies have optimized customer experience – will make a lasting impact on the next decade and beyond.