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The Social Determinants of Health

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The Social Determinants of Health

Defining the Social Determinants of Health

What impacts health? Your first thoughts might be genetics, exercise, nutrition, and medication. For the most part, these are considered primary factors that have major implications for someone’s health and wellbeing.

However, health is influenced by much more than just the primary factors above. At the moment, the healthcare field is becoming increasingly interested in the Social Determinants of Health. In fact, at end of 2017, New York State created a special bureau devoted specifically to advancing this idea. The Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) are defined as the conditions in which people are born, live, grow, work, and age. Oftentimes, these are the socioeconomic factors that can often determine a person’s wellbeing.

There are five key SDOH areas. These include economic stability, education, social and community context, health and healthcare, and neighborhood and built environment. Access to each of these areas has major implications for the health of entire segments of the population. People who don’t have quality access to these areas often experience worse medical and health outcomes than those who do. For example, people experiencing poverty or unstable housing often have major and unresolved medical concerns.

One easy way to understand the relationship between the Social Determinants of Health and health is to think about how trauma and substance use are related. The ACES Study revealed that people who experienced trauma in childhood were much more likely to have a substance use disorder later in life. And just like with Trauma-Informed Care, the SDOH will not require dramatic changes to how we care for people with substance use disorders. It will, however, require us to broaden our scope a bit in how we think about our work.

Integrating SDOH

In many ways, our services tie directly into the five key areas. We help our residents achieve economic stability, and we assist them with achieving educational and vocational goals. Residents are encouraged to develop stronger bonds with friends, family, and their communities. We also help them to focus on their healthcare and find supportive places to live.

Because our services are so integrated with the Social Determinants of Health, we will soon begin to prioritize them in our work. Our next steps will involve determining the best ways to measure the impact we can have on the SDOH. Similar to New York State, we’re going to be bringing increased attention to the SDOH throughout the agency. In September, we’re featuring a seminar that discusses the Social Determinants of Health in more detail. Any of our staff members will be welcome to attend, and we’ll send out more information about the seminar later this year.

At the moment, New York State is moving toward a new value-based model of healthcare. With this change, the SDOH may help us determine potential new and innovative ways to receive funding. As we develop new programs and services, we will want to keep the Social Determinants of Health at the forefront of our plans.

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