A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine has found that social determinants of health (SDOH) data factors into clinical decision-making around 35% of the time. The survey found that healthcare providers use various sources to gather SDOH data, with verbal communication between patients and clinicians being the most common. The report highlights the importance of integrating SDOH screening into electronic health records (EHR) and enabling clinicians to note observed SDOH in patient-provider communication to enhance future clinical decision-making.
The Importance of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Data for Clinical Decision Making Social determinants of health (SDOH) have been recognized as significant factors that impact a patient’s health and well-being. Factors such as food security, education attainment, and the environment have been shown to affect patient outcomes. As such, healthcare providers and organizations have been working to integrate SDOH data into clinical care to better understand their patients and make informed healthcare decisions.
A report published in the Annals of Family Medicine highlighted the importance of SDOH data for clinical decision-making. The study, which surveyed 38 clinicians working in one of 21 safety-net clinics, found that SDOH factored into clinical decision-making 35% of the time. The researchers noted that integrating SDOH screening into the electronic health record (EHR) and enabling clinicians to note observed SDOH in patient-provider communication will be helpful in future clinical decision-making.
Although healthcare providers consider SDOH in clinical decision-making, the survey found that they aren’t learning about a patient’s SDOH from one single source. Clinicians are mostly hearing about SDOH from patient-provider communication on the topic (76% of the time), and they also use prior knowledge of a patient’s social risk factors to make clinician decisions (64% of the time).
It wasn’t rare for providers to also use SDOH information stored in the EHR, but it was far from as common as verbal communication on the topic. Just under half (46%) of providers used SDOH data stored in the EHR to make clinical decisions, and that was most common when data was documented in discrete fields of the EHR.
The findings of the report suggest that SDOH data sources are complementary and that patient-clinician conversations may be crucial to understanding patients’ relevant life circumstances. Social risk-related EHR tools and data collection workflows should therefore be designed and implemented to foster and support—not replace—these conversations.
Future research may explore the type of information clinicians consider to be SDOH and how they use the EHR to document and locate this data. Ultimately, the importance of SDOH data cannot be understated. SDOH data is integral to understanding a patient’s health and well-being and should be considered in clinical decision-making. Efforts to store SDOH data in the EHR should be complemented by patient-clinician conversations to better understand the patient’s relevant life circumstances.
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