In potentially a sign of evolving patient expectations of care, more and more younger people are looking for their providers to ask them about their social needs, or conduct social determinants of health screenings, according to surveying from the University of Michigan. [Health Engagement HIT]
Using data from the MyVoice National Poll of Youth, the researchers determined that a whopping 81 percent of people ages 14 to 20—mostly Gen Z—want their providers to ask them about social needs that are collectively known as the social determinants of health.
“It seems obvious that addressing social needs, like food and housing, in clinical settings would benefit patients,” Claire Chang, a U-M Medical School student and the study’s first author, said in a press release. “But we actually know very little about whether and how patients would want to receive this kind of assistance.”
This latest data is novel in that it provides a glimpse into some patient perspectives about social determinants of health screening. SDOH screening can be very intimate, and it requires significant trust between patient and provider. These findings suggest that many younger patients would be open to such questions during their medical encounters.
“Youth in our study told us that they do want to talk about social determinants of health with their providers,” Change added. “It is important for us to understand these preferences and desires as social/medical care integration efforts spread across the country.”
In fact, the finding that most younger patients want their providers to initiate conversations about SDOH is critical; nearly a third of respondents said they might be embarrassed to bring up their own social needs during a clinical encounter. Having a provider begin a discussion about SDOH could help mitigate that discomfort and foster a better patient experience.
Younger patients also want their clinicians to come to them with a solution to their SDOH needs. A quarter said they want their providers to offer resources to help ameliorate their social needs, and just as many said providers should have information about social services addressing SDOH.
Most younger patients want to hear about these resources in-person during their clinical encounters, although they did note they are open to receiving emails, text messages, or phone calls detailing SDOH resources, as well.
These findings come as welcome news as more healthcare organizations consider strategies for screening for and addressing social determinants of health. It has become the consensus among the medical industry that SDOH have an outsized impact on patient health and outcomes, and now the evidence grows suggesting patients want to talk about these issues, too.
“As a doctor, what I hear is my adolescent and young adult patients want me to ask them about more than their health. They want me to ask about their lives,” Tammy Chang, MD, MPH, MS, the poll director and a family medicine physician for U-M, stated publicly.
“This opens a door for doctors and other healthcare providers to really understand the root causes of the issues that young people are facing today. Youth in our study didn't expect providers to solve their issues, rather, just listen. I can do that.”
STRATEGIES FOR SDOH SCREENING
Healthcare organizations considering SDOH screening need to be judicious about how they roll out any changes to clinical procedure. As noted above, SDOH screening can be sensitive, and poll respondents did indicate that there is some embarrassment associated with social needs.
Healthcare professionals need to lead any SDOH screening with empathy and trust.
Clinicians should explain to patients what they are doing during a screening, why they are doing it, and that patients can opt out of a screening at any time.
Those principles should be reflected in the screening itself, which is usually done on a paper form of digital tool. In addition, screening tools should meet population needs and preferences—younger people might prefer digital screenings while other populations may want a more paper-based form.
Both using screening tools and during follow-up discussions with providers, it is helpful to have a number of resources on hand to address patient needs. Organizations should consider the community health partnerships they already have and tailor their screening questions to them—why ask about legal issues if the provider does not have a medical-legal partnership?
This helps engender patient trust and assure a closed loop on medical and SDOH care.