One key way health systems can drill down into the social determinants of the populations they serve is to leverage existing analytics. Since the advent of electronic health records, health systems have been able to amass a great deal of data about health outcomes that can be connected to additional community research. In fact, the rising availability of geo-targeted health data could make it simpler to paint a picture of neighborhood health in a similar way to targeted consumer marketing.
"We are really in the nascency of this area, geospatial analysis, when it comes to health," said Michael Topmiller, a health geographic information systems (GIS) research specialist at Health Landscape, an innovation of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "We can identify which neighborhoods contain hiking and biking trails, for example, but we can't yet determine if access to hiking trails matters more to health than, say, unemployment. We are working on making those connections, but they're not quite there yet."
Even without knowing precisely which social determinants may have more of an impact on health than others, health systems can begin working with the data they have to mitigate the potential health impacts of various social determinants. For example, patients in certain areas may not have access to specific medical supplies, like glucose monitoring devices, due to a lack of drug stores nearby. So it may be best for a healthcare provider to have supplies shipped straight to the patient’s home. Tactics like this could help avoid unnecessary hospitalizations.
"Consumer analytics tackled this problem years ago," Mallow said. "Just as targeted marketing uses aggregated data that includes your neighborhood demographics, income levels, locations of retail stores in proximity to your address, so to can health systems use data to get a picture of the social determinants of their populations to better inform patient care."