Health+Social

How can we best prepare healthcare professionals to address social factors? Health + Social is a new effort that explores this important question in collaboration with leading thinkers and educators.

How to Explore Health + Social

Key Topics

Discover five themes that emerged from interviews with leading healthcare thinkers and educators

Research

Review full interview transcripts and additional insights from the interviews

Stories

Learn about health care professionals who are applying their knowledge of social determinants of health to their work

Key Topics

We now know that social factors — from income levels to race to the neighborhood where we live — affect health outcomes more than anyone ever thought.

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More and more people, from leaders of institutions to protesters in the streets, are asking what we can do to address social determinants of health.

 

However, the amount of attention being given to social determinants is growing, if slowly. National policy imperatives and the need to control health care costs likely explain the shift.

Social determinants could also be addressed through renewed concern for larger questions of justice in our society.

 

Many professionals in health care and human services are aware of the ways in which social determinants shape the lives of the people they care for. However, the best way to act on this understanding is often uncertain.

How we translate our understanding of social determinants into changes in our health care system is one of the major challenges of our time.

 

Substantial work remains if we hope to translate our understanding of social determinants into practical, specific protocols for care on the individual or community level.

Interest in social determinants has driven several promising efforts to coordinate action between health care and social welfare systems.

However, truly addressing the social determinants of health may ultimately require us to re-think fundamental assumptions of our health care system.

A deeper understanding of social determinants could also prompt us to develop more comprehensive models of health, human welfare, and social justice. We may need to explore tools and perspectives beyond those provided by public health or economic models.

Practitioners are currently seeking to understand the skills and perspectives they will need to address social determinants of health.

 

When it comes to the education of health care and human service professionals, an improved understanding of social determinants of health can lead to some immediate changes in everyday decision-making.

However, to address social determinants of health in a comprehensive way, health care professionals will need to acquire new skills. These skills may include using data in decision-making, design and innovation, strategic communications, and leadership within systems.

We believe the most important change that must occur is preparing practitioners to work in interdisciplinary, patient-centered teams built upon a common understanding of social determinants.

 

But perhaps the most important change needed in professional education in order to address social determinants of health is earlier training in working as part of patient-centered teams.

 

To develop true competencies in working with teams, developing health care professionals need more than a mere familiarity with other disciplines. They need formative, integrative experiences providing actual care alongside other professionals with a focus on the social determinants of health.

 

Such a program of professional education could be grounded in the development of healthy relationships with professional colleagues as well as patients, including considerations such as empathetic listening and respect for the cultural and disciplinary perspectives of others. This relational competence would be the scaffolding on which all efforts to address social determinants of health would be constructed.

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Social factors — everything from racial discrimination to the neighborhoods where we live — play a key role in today’s most pressing health challenges. Yet health professionals remain uncertain how to integrate an understanding of the social determinants of health into education and practice. HEALTH PLUS SOCIAL is an effort designed to bridge the gap.

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