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Penn State Health explores gaps in patient care opportunities

Penn State Health is exploring the factors that may lead to health disparities for its patients. These social determinants of health include access to transportation, housing stability, food insecurity, social and emotional health, and physical and emotional safety.

Social determinants of health can affect whether a patient gets to medical appointments or other medical care. Missed care opportunities affect the quality of care patients receive as well as their overall health and well-being.

Two years ago, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center established associate and vice chairs for diversity within its clinical departments. In 2023, these vice chairs are working collaboratively with the health system’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to study the specific factors that lead to missed care opportunities. Our goal is to develop recommendations for implementing strategies that reduce or eliminate these factors, which may be affected by:

  • Work or family/child care commitments
  • Forgetting appointments
  • Transportation issues
  • Feeling too ill to attend an appointment
  • Weather-related barriers

In its analysis so far, the team has found that patients who have one or more unmet social need are more likely to miss health care opportunities. As a result, they often suffer from poor health care outcomes and visit an emergency department more frequently. Race, native language, type of insurance and who provides the care are early indicators of factors that may affect missed care opportunities.

The team is conducting further analyses and will share the final results with health system leaders. The clinical vice chairs, in conjunction with medical student Max Wright, will publish the results of this study.

Anyone who has been involved in or is aware of studies that look at why diverse patients miss their appointments can email

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