Physicians Point to SDOH as Area of Improvement for Health Care

Psychiatric Times, Vol 39, Issue 5,

8 in 10 physicians believe the United States cannot improve health outcomes or reduce health care costs without addressing social factors that affect patient health.

MEDICAL ECONOMICS

According to the Physicians Foundation’s 2022 Survey of America’s Physicians, 8 in 10 physicians believe the United States cannot improve health outcomes or reduce health care costs without addressing social factors that affect patient health. Furthermore, although they are interested in addressing social drivers of health (SDOH) for patients, 61% of the 1502 surveyed physicians said they do not have the time or ability to do so effectively. The February 2022 survey examined the current impact of SDOH on physician practice, physician well-being, and their patients, as well as possible solutions needed to address the social factors.

“Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no question that physicians and patients have all been impacted, some worse than others. Part of what drives the scale of that impact is SDOH,” Physicians Foundation CEO Robert Seligson said in a news release. “The desire from physicians to properly address the SDOH is there. We need take the initiative to make changes, like screening patients to identify social needs and creating financial incentives to support physicians in addressing their patients’ unique needs.”

Also known as social determinants of health, SDOH include factors such socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment, nutrition and food security, health care access, and social support networks.

The survey highlighted the resulting frustration of not being able to address SDOH for their patients. “[It] isn’t for lack of trying or effort—physicians face many barriers when addressing SDOH,” the Physicians Foundation report said. For instance, along with limited time, 84% of physicians said they have an insufficient workforce to navigate patients to community SDOH resources. Similarly, although there are some helpful resources to navigate SDOH factors, 77% of physicians reported community resources were not available, inadequate, or difficult to access, and 77% said there is inadequate information on how to access community resources.

The impact of SDOH challenges is very real, and not just for patients. More than half the physicians reported the challenges cause them stress on a daily or weekly basis. They cited factors such as existing payer reporting requirements taking time away from discussing patients SDOH (63%) and lack of reimbursement for screening or addressing SDOH (57%).

To make addressing SDOH easier for clinicians, the survey identified multiple policy steps that could improve patient health outcomes while ensuring high-quality, cost-efficient care. The top strategies were reimbursing physician-directed efforts to address SDOH (86%), incentivizing payers to invest in availability and quality of community resources to address patients’ SDOH (84%), and providing greater flexibility for Medicare Advantage to reimburse for addressing SDOH (81%).

“In 2021, The Physicians Foundation submitted the first-ever SDOH measures to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which are currently under consideration to be included in federal payment programs,” Seligson said in the news release. “If adopted, these measures might potentially impact reimbursements for physicians, as well as address SDOH in how our country pays for and delivers care to improve patient health.” ❒

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