How Can a Palliative Care Team Help Address Social Determinants of Health?

In 2017, about 40% of American families struggled to meet at least one basic need – food, healthcare, housing, utilities. This was well before the pandemic and spike in unemployment. As social determinants of health (SDOH) continues to be top of mind for many healthcare providers, there is an increasing role that palliative care can play in connecting vulnerable individuals with the necessary community resources.

What are Social Determinants of Health?

SDOH are conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age. SDOH have a major impact on an individual’s health, well-being, and quality of life.

There are 5 SDOH domains. These include:

  • Economic stability
  • Education access and quality
  • Healthcare access and quality
  • Neighborhood and built environment
  • Social and community context

The American Hospital Association states that 80% of an individuals’ health and well-being is tied to their physical environment, economic stability, education, and food insecurity. Only 20% is tied to access to quality healthcare. But an unfortunate reality, based on a Dartmouth study, is that only 24% of hospitals and 16% of physician practices screen for SDOH. A lack of screening creates a barrier to individuals getting the resources and support they need.

A Deloitte research study found that hospitals and health systems are investing in SDOH, with 80% of respondents reporting leadership has committed to addressing these needs. The research also showed that activity is fragmented, and higher investment in these programs tend to be those organizations focused on value-based care.

Palliative Care

Palliative care focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal of palliative care is to improve the life of the seriously ill individual and their family. It’s unlike most other care in that it does not focus on the prognosis, but rather the needs of the individual and their family.

This type of supportive care requires an interdisciplinary team that includes not just physicians and nurses, but also social workers, case managers, and chaplains. The combination of this expertise helps provide whole-person care that extends well beyond medical care.

While there are still barriers and shortages of palliative care programs in the U.S., especially in smaller hospitals and rural areas, there has been growth over the last few years. While it is important to have inpatient palliative care programs, it’s just as important, if not more so, to be able to provide community-based palliative care. This helps provide the supportive care needed when the patient is discharged from the hospital. This may be provided through home-based palliative care, via telehealth, or a combination of both.

The Role of the Interdisciplinary Palliative Care Team

Palliative care teams are purposefully structured to provide whole-person care. They also act as an extension of the existing care team. This is why they are particularly valuable in addressing SDOH. Interdisciplinary palliative care teams are well-equipped to screen for SDOH and provide access to community resources, helping improve the quality of life for the individual and their family.

VyncaCare, offers home-based palliative care and telehealth services to the seriously ill. Focused on those individuals in rural communities, our supportive care team provides services and resources to those who otherwise would have limited or no access to this care.

By partnering with Medicare Advantage and Managed Medicaid plans, our interventions have improved lives of the members they service. This extends beyond just clinical outcomes. Our team helps individuals secure housing, connects them with food programs, as well as other community resources to improve their lives.

Since 80% of an individuals’ well-being falls outside of access to quality healthcare, these are often areas many doctors are unable to successfully address. When there is an interdisciplinary team providing care, SDOH are more likely to be addressed.

For example, by having social workers as part of the care team, they focus on the individual and their environment. The primary focus of a social worker is to enhance an individuals’ well-being, and help meet both basic and complex needs. Social workers are also extremely effective in communicating with the family, as well as the entire care team. These are areas that can be challenging for the traditional care team to address.

Due to their whole-person approach to providing care, interdisciplinary palliative care teams are arguably best equipped to identify and address SDOH.