The idea of social determinants of health–social factors that impact the overall health of both individuals and entire communities–can be a bit fuzzy.
For example, it’s fairly well understood that food insecurity leads to depression and anxiety and stress, but what does that really mean? Likewise, more and more research is demonstrating the links between a person’s community and social interactions and their health, but understanding how social isolation impacts health is complex and sometimes confusing. It often feels like the more we dig into the numbers, the more unclear solutions become.
At Papa, one of our priorities is to not only make sure that we understand the many factors that impact the health of our members, but also to go deeper into the data behind those factors so that we can truly comprehend how our members can live healthy, happy lives.
This is so important to us that we have an internal team of highly qualified, highly engaged researchers who spend all of their time digging into the health care data and conducting their own research to figure out exactly what we need to do as a company–and what the rest of the health care community, and the population in general–can do to keep people healthy.
Recently, several members of our research team published a peer-reviewed article about how clear, consistent data can be a major factor in mitigating the very SDoH factors that the data seeks to define. It’s a bit of a circular argument–in a good way. Essentially, when there is consistent data around the SDoH factors that impact member health, people are able to get greater clarity around those factors. And when people have more clarity, collaboration, and alignment across the industry, they are able to come up with clear, consistent solutions that in turn, improve overall health. And when overall health is improved, outcomes improve as well.
It’s an upward spiral.
Let us explain a bit more.
Does Consistent SDoH data really change anything?
Ten years ago, the answer to the above question would be no.
Before the CHRONIC Care Act of 2018, most health plans weren’t incentivised (or often even allowed) to provide benefits that went beyond standard health care. Health plans simply covered standard doctor’s visits and emergency care and anything that went beyond that often came out of individual pockets. Or was neglected altogether.
But then researchers started looking at social factors and health and it quickly became evident that seemingly non-health related factors had a huge impact on overall health. A shift began to take place, and health plans began to adopt supplemental benefits based on social needs.
This shift is what drove the birth of Papa.
Our founder, Andrew Parker, saw firsthand the social and emotional needs that his own Papa had–and saw how much healthier and happier his Papa was with those needs met. But the leadership at Papa knew that a business can’t be built on one anecdotal story, one person, one moment.
They needed data.
They needed to get a clear picture of the numbers behind the people, so that they could find solutions.
SDoH data is plentiful, but not always clear
There’s lots of SDoH out there. A quick Google search or visit to health.gov will give you pages and pages of articles to pour over. Thousands of companies have published SDoH data and articles and guides.
In fact, we just published one ourselves.
We aren’t knocking any of these–most of the information we have read is great. We’ve gained valuable insights and taken strides toward understanding. But we want to echo what our research department has been saying:
You can only improve what you measure.
In an industry that is growing quickly–and making huge strides in changing overall health–the importance of alignment is becoming more and more evident. We can help our members be healthier– and our businesses be more successful–if we work together to keep our data consistent.
It’s that upward spiral thing.
Together, we can commit to doing good research and using consistent measurement. Then, all of us can better understand what exactly is going on with our members and find solutions to address those social needs. And by doing so, people will get healthier.
Which will improve outcomes.
Just a few numbers that really brought us clarity
Since we’re talking about consistent data, we thought we would share a few stats that really gave us a clear picture about SDoH factors and overall health.
Our research department conducted rigorous research on unhealthy days. Through a randomized controlled trial, they surveyed people in 2019, right as they enrolled in Papa, then, those same members were reassessed in six months.
At the start, members reported an average of 9.6 mentally unhealthy days and 6.3 physically unhealthy days per month. (To put that into perspective, on average, about a third of every month was spent feeling mentally unwell and about a quarter of each month was spent feeling physically unwell.)
Then, after participation in Papa, members reported an average of 4 fewer mentally unhealthy days per month, a 31% reduction from baseline, and 4.5 fewer physically unhealthy days each month, a 38% reduction from baseline. (If you’re curious, the control group received a loneliness resource guide but no Papa visits. They only reduced their mentally unhealthy days by 0.7 and physically unhealthy days by 1.8. Quite the difference, right?)
Aside from being very clear, really impactful data on the social factors that impact health, this is also an example of clear, concise measurement of an SDoH industry intervention. Essentially, these numbers put evidence-based data behind the work that Papa does.
In turn, data like this gives health plans and health care professionals a clear call to action on how to impact SDoH measurements.
A call for consistent measurement
We want to conclude with a call for consistent data.
If you want to read the nitty gritty details on how we propose to do this, you can read our entire peer-reviewed publication entitled A Call for Consistent Measurement Across the Social Determinants of Health Industry Landscape. In it, our Papa researchers Dr. Ellen Rudy and Kelsey McNamara, along with our CEO Andrew Parker spell out a clear case for the power of SDoH data and how the entire health care industry can align to make an impact.
At Papa, we don’t just want our members to be healthy, we want all people to be healthy.
And we don’t just want our business to be successful and grow, we want the entire health care industry to be successful and grow.
We want to be part of the change.
We want to make and impact.
We want to mitigate SDoH factors so that the people who need help the most get it.
And most of all, we want to help people.
We think that upward trajectory starts with a clear understanding of what is impacting people’s overall health.
And it continues with us using that understanding to get really creative with solutions.
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