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Why Addressing Social Determinants of Health Is So Important


John Bulger, MBA, of Geisinger Health Plan, said this is the linchpin to improving health.

Health systems, tech companies and government agencies are focusing more than ever on addressing social determinants of health. But why? Is it just the next big thing in healthcare, destined to be forgotten with the rise of tomorrow’s shiny new technology?

Not quite.

“Social determinants have really come to the forefront because we’ve begun to realize that social determinants play such a huge role in people’s health,” John Bulger, MBA, chief medical officer at Geisinger Health Plan, told Inside Digital Health™ in an interview at the 2019 World Health Care Congress conference in Washington, D.C.

One way that Geisinger Health Plan has addressed population health is by rolling out a community health assistant program. The initiative is designed to introduce patients to available service providers and help them sign up for the services.

Geisinger — whose reach, of course, goes beyond insurance and into the provider space and elsewhere — also conducts a community health needs assessment report every three years to identify the specific needs of its communities, and then it develops solutions based on responses.

Broadly, there is an increased need to focus on the population that a health system is serving.

Bulger said that what physicians are learning in medical school and during their residency can only impact a patient’s health to a small degree. Providers need to examine the conditions in which their patients live.

Finally, he said that providers and organizations are starting to understand that if someone doesn’t have transportation to get to an appointment, housing or food, they won’t be able to improve a patient’s health.

“So addressing those social determinants is actually the linchpin in getting people truly to health,” he said.

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