In recent years, healthcare practices and providers have focused on ensuring fair and equitable access to care for every individual. Countless disparities have come to light, emphasizing the need for better health equity across various patient populations due to social determinants of health (SDOH).
Although the impact of SDOH on patient health is widely recognized by healthcare organizations, initiating change is often easier said than done. What’s more, healthcare experts recently started questioning whether the digital divide is a new social determinant of health, pointing out that modern healthcare technologies can actually exacerbate disparities if certain groups can’t access the tools they need.
In this article, we’ll discuss social determinants of health and the impact they can have on patient portal adoption rates.
What Are Social Determinants of Health?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, social determinants of health are “the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality of life outcomes and risks.”
SDOH can be grouped into five different categories:
- Economic stability
- Education access and quality
- Healthcare access and quality
- Neighborhood and built environment
- Social and community context
In other words, everything from income and education to housing and diet can impact a person’s quality of life and overall health and wellbeing. In fact, research shows that 80-90 percent of patient outcomes directly correlate with social determinants of health. Additionally, because health inequities can lead to poor health management and outcomes, they can also contribute to rising healthcare costs.
How do SDOH impact patient portal adoption?
Despite more than 90 percent of healthcare practices offering access to a patient portal, adoption rates are still a pain point for many organizations. Social determinants of health have a direct impact on patient portal adoption rates.
A recent study revealed that several socioeconomic variables can be used to predict patient portal adoption, including age, income, education, marital status, gender, mental health, number of people in household, chronic disease, and Medicaid enrollment. More than 100 studies document the disparities in patient portal use among vulnerable patient populations, such as elderly individuals, racial minorities, and low-income families.
For healthcare practices, there are significant implications associated with low patient portal adoption—especially among vulnerable populations who may be battling chronic conditions, living in poor conditions, and/or limited in terms of health literacy.
Addressing SDOH with Patient Engagement Technology
Despite these disparities, healthcare practices can use technology to identify and address social determinants of health among the populations they treat. Here’s how:
1. Identify high-risk patient populations.
Leveraging the robust, real-time datasets aggregated from clinical and claims data housed in electronic health records (EHRs), healthcare practices can triage patients into various risk categories, such as chronic condition populations, to ultimately improve patient outcomes. This helps practices identify high-risk individuals who may require additional support and outreach from their providers.
With a better idea of which patients to monitor and intervene with, healthcare practices can improve patient management efforts and encourage healthy behavior among vulnerable populations, without increasing manual workflows or heavy lifting by staff.
2. Deliver personalized patient interventions.
With a better understanding of which patients are in a high-to-moderate risk category, healthcare practices and providers can use population health management technology like Patient Activate to deliver automated, personalized interventions. Automated outreach campaigns are a great way to get in touch with patients between visits via their preferred communication method, whether it be phone, text, or in-portal message.
For example, by establishing rules within a population health management platform, practices can receive a notification when patients have not scheduled a maintenance appointment or fulfilled a self-management task, like recording a blood pressure reading or monitoring glucose levels at home. After the initial setup, the platform will automatically search the updated populations for at-risk patients.
3. Offer virtual care alternatives to in-person visits.
Offering virtual care, or telehealth appointments, is another excellent way healthcare practices can address health inequity. Although not a solution for every vulnerable patient—the digital divide is still very much a factor—telehealth visits improve access to care for individuals in rural and often underserved areas, elderly patients who may lack a form of reliable transportation, and those treating chronic conditions.
These are just a few examples of how patient engagement technology can be used to improve access, reduce disparities, and achieve healthy outcomes across various populations—regardless of the money they make, where they live, or their level of education. By taking steps to identify and address social determinants of health, your practice can initiate real, meaningful change, one patient at a time.