Addressing social determinants of health (SDH) is critical when it comes to providing optimal health care for individuals. It’s not always a matter of lifestyle choices, genetics, or healthcare services that contribute to a person’s overall health. In fact, SDH accounts for 30-55 percent of health outcomes. SDH is determined by the conditions of which people are born and remains a challenge among healthcare professionals today. This is not because they are unable or unwilling to provide quality care, but because providers don’t always have access to this information. Read on to learn more about the five social determinants of health areas.
In 2021, 11.6 percent of the United States’ population lived in poverty. This means that many of these individuals are unable to afford not only healthcare services but essential items that promote a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, economic instability can affect a person’s psychological well-being and biology, ultimately perpetuating this vicious cycle. For example, chronic stress due to a lack of funds and resources can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension to name a few. For pregnant women, excess stress hormones can cause premature births, leading to potential health issues as the baby grows.
Food insecurity is another factor contributing to poor overall health among those living in poverty. These individuals have little to no access to nutritional food due to neighborhood structures and the ability to purchase groceries. This puts children and adults at risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and mental health disorders.
Reducing the cost of medications, appointments, and hospital stays are just a few of the many benefits that health insurance provides. Insurance plans also connect individuals with primary care physicians who can establish strong relationships with their patients. Primary care physicians have a network of other specialists that cater to specific needs. For example, if someone is suffering from type two diabetes, their doctor can recommend a nutritionist that will help get their diet back on track. Along with not being able to afford healthcare, low-income households often do not have a means of transportation to get to and from appointments.
Education gives people the tools they need to improve their health as well as their emotional and physical well-being. These tools include the ability to achieve a higher income which provides health insurance, benefits, and ease of access to wellness facilities like gyms. Quality education also means individuals can obtain the skills needed to understand and treat illnesses, and mental and physical impairments.
Childhood education is crucial when it comes to establishing a structure for future healthcare habits. Research shows that by the time a child reaches the age of five, their brain is already 90 percent developed. Exposing children to programs that focus on cognitive, physical, and emotional development improves their ability to discern the importance of what it takes to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The environmental role in SDH is twofold: One is the home environment in which individuals are brought up and the other is the actual geographical climate of an area. Unequal access to housing pushes many people into neighborhoods with higher crime rates which directly impacts their mental health. Research shows that 73 percent of children who grow up with parents who did not receive a high school diploma live in low-income households. This goes hand-in-hand with the above education SDH and how low-income households inevitably end up in low-income neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have a higher crime and mortality rate. Individuals may also be exposed to dangerous infrastructure quality, such as contaminated water.
As far as natural elements impacting a person’s health, climate change is also a risk factor. Those living in poverty don’t always have easy access to air conditioning and heating systems. Hospitals often see a spike in emergency visits in the summer months due to heat stroke, and especially for people who are experiencing homelessness, frigid weather also imposes the risk of hypothermia. Once again, this cycle is perpetuated as people who live in poverty with no transportation options are unable to drive themselves to the hospital.
How individuals grow up and who they surround themselves with have a large impact on health. This isn’t something that can necessarily be controlled by a person, especially children, but there are charities and outreach programs that make it easier for people to seek support and guidance. Senior citizens, for example, are often socially isolated due to living in retirement homes and being away from loved ones. Positive social relationships are critical to maintaining for your overall well-being. These relationships have a direct impact on mental and physical health and are even correlated with mortality rates.
From a broader standpoint, social disparities and discrimination surrounding institutions and other policies also have an impact on health. Individuals who are incarcerated have a higher risk of developing a chronic condition or acquiring an infectious disease than the general population. This is due to jails lacking the resources to meet healthy hygienic practices and the delays that are experienced when medical treatment is needed. In addition to overall living conditions for those incarcerated, their family at home is also experiencing hardships. Research shows that children who have an incarcerated parent are more likely to experience domestic abuse, neighborhood violence, mental illness, and substance abuse problems.
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Addressing healthcare disparities with patients is a hard topic to navigate for healthcare providers for numerous reasons. Living circumstances aren’t always obvious and finding compassionate ways to ask the appropriate questions can be challenging. Not to mention, finding a solution depends on the circumstance and larger-scale issues like violence and climate change are something that requires policy change on a state or federal level.
The social determinants of health are all interconnected, creating a seemingly never ending web. As healthcare providers there are steps that can be taken to execute value-based care for those in underserved communities. Clinify Health can help your community health care center achieve financial stability.
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