The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as the conditions in which people are “born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems” (economic, social policies, and political systems) that shape the conditions of daily life. They affect a person’s health, functioning, and quality of life, and directly result in inequalities in health treatment, which could inevitably be avoided if all individuals were provided with equal access to social and economic services. Examples include housing, food security, socioeconomic status, and income. These have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of patients, and can prevent people from getting access to the necessary care.
So how can we address these to provide a more balanced quality of care for people regardless of their social backgrounds? According to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, it’s by adhering to these 5 principles: awareness, adjustment, assistance, alignment, and advocacy. This entails identifying the social risks and assets of specific patients, altering literacy-concordant services, providing tele-health services, and expanding opening hours to evenings and weekends. Healthcare providers can form links with social care organizations to advocate for policies that promote the creation and distribution of assets or resources to address social determinants of health. For example, healthcare organizations can call for policy changes to overhaul transportation services in communities that would benefit from it, such as lower-income neighborhoods.
The starting point for implementing these changes will be to assess the current needs of the communities most in need of assistance. "Activities in the clinical setting should be designed and implemented in a way that engages patients, community partners, frontline staff, social care workers, and clinicians in planning and evaluation, as well as in incorporating the preferences of patients and communities. Establishing communication pathways between healthcare and social service providers is critical. This includes personal and home care aides, and others who provide care and support for seriously ill and disabled patients," says Bibbins-Domingo, PhD, MD, professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
It will be a long road eliminating all forms of inequality amongst people of different social backgrounds, but once real change is brought forward within accountable healthcare organizations, marginalized communities will be able to have access to treatment and care that is on par with that of higher-income, more upper class communities, and will have a better opportunity of overcoming other barriers to succeed in other aspects of life. Healthcare should be one aspect of life where everybody is on an even playing field, and once it becomes what it should have always been, our communities will be all the more grateful for it.