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How social determinants link to patient health

Part of achieving health equity – when everyone has a fair opportunity to achieve their full health potential – is identifying the underlying factors in patients’ lives that affect their health risks and outcomes.

Social determinants of health – the conditions in which people are born, live, work and age – affect a person’s overall mental, physical and emotional well-being. explains what these five social determinants mean:

  • Education access and quality – People with higher levels of education are more likely to live healthier, longer lives. This connection starts with early childhood, where access to quality education can be a hurdle for some, making them less likely to get safer, higher-paying jobs as adults.
  • Health care and quality – Many people without health insurance do not have a primary care provider, and they may not be able to afford health care and medications. Also, some may live far away from specialists or other providers who could provide the screenings and treatment they need.
  • Neighborhood and built environment – Where a person lives can affect their health due to transportation issues; housing quality; poor access to healthy foods, safe air and clean water; and neighborhood crime and violence.
  • Social and community context – Relationships with family, friends and within the community can give people the support they need to overcome issues that can otherwise affect their health, such as unsafe neighborhoods, discrimination or economic problems.
  • Economic stability – In the U.S., 1 in 10 people are living in poverty, which makes it difficult to afford healthy food, health care and housing.

Being aware of these barriers to health care and healthy living helps providers offer compassionate, comprehensive care to patients of various backgrounds and experiences. Taking steps to mitigate some of these social factors, like increasing the coordination of services and collaboration among health care professionals, can help build a more equitable health system and improve health outcomes for all.

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