Social determinants (or drivers) of health (SDOH) can create substantial barriers to an individual’s overall health and wellbeing. For example, several factors associated with economic hardship—lack of transportation, safe housing, or access to nutritious food, etc.—are highly correlated with poor health outcomes. Research demonstrates that properly addressing SDOH issues can be more impactful on an individual’s overall health rather than simply promoting healthy lifestyle choices or even by offering greater access to services. Various stakeholders have ramped up their focus to identify and address SDOH needs to improve patient care and achieve better patient outcomes. However, effectively addressing SDOH needs within the larger context of whole person care can be quite the jigsaw puzzle. In addition to technological challenges in collecting and sharing necessary data, many laws restrict the ability to collect and share data amongst all stakeholders. At times, the overall picture of “health” of a person has many missing data pieces. In this article, we explain SDOH and its importance, provide an overview of SDOH developments in the United States, and discuss relevant legal and technological issues that arise and offer some best practices to navigate them.
Republished with permission. The complete article "The Missing Puzzle Piece: Using Health Data to Close the Social Determinants of Health Gap" was published by the American Health Law Association on January 8, 2024.