​Not so long ago, addressing social determinants of health (SDOH) was considered a bleeding-edge concept. While pretty much every stakeholder agreed that “life” factors make an enormous difference in health outcomes, few had the stomach to test out new programs.

Well, grab your Tums, because SDOH have become an integral part of strategic plans among health organizations nationwide. Everybody’s doing it (and we’re thrilled). It’s another step toward the Smart Health Market. Payers, providers, and lawmakers have committed to improving housing, nutrition, education, transportation, and more – all in the name of better patient outcomes and better value for our healthcare dollar.

[Related read on Smart Health Markets]

Investments in SDOH are increasing, which is a good indicator of a positive outlook. Here are three quick wins we’ve noticed in just the past few weeks.

Win #1: ICD-10 Coding

Insurance giant UnitedHealthcare announced it will add ICD-10 codes related to SDOH to its dataset. The effort opens the door not only for connecting patients to community supports, but also for creating standardized documentation of social needs.

Just think of the trends that can be identified once all that data is captured.

According to the insurer, ICD-10 codes (Z55-Z65) are some of the few tools it has to measure and evaluate SDOH. Claims data up until now has seriously lacked this information.

UnitedHealthcare also says it’s made half a million referrals to social services in the past two years, with an estimated social value of $250 million (Fierce Healthcare, February 11, 2019). And that’s on top of a slew of grants the company has been handing out to address SDOH in select markets.

Our take: Yes! If payers can identify socioeconomic and psychosocial trends, they can tailor services at the community level and connect members to local organizations that can help them with all kinds of valuable services.

Win #2 Large-Scale Nutrition

Health Care Service Corp. and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute launched a pilot project to provide healthy meal deliveries to people in 25 Chicago zip codes, followed by another 15 zip codes in the Dallas area scheduled to come online this spring. If you guessed that these areas are notorious food deserts, you’d be right.

The innovation here is a new partnership venture called FoodQ that sends members healthy meals, such as vegetarian stew, chicken casserole, and glazed salmon, for just $10 a month. Affordable and delicious.

Making good food conveniently available will improve the health of the community, especially for people with chronic conditions that are influenced by diet. In turn, that should reduce the need for more costly healthcare encounters like emergency room visits.

Our take: The best feature of this program is the fact that any consumer living in the selected zip codes can sign up for FoodQ – even those who aren’t Blues members. Brilliant!

Win #3 Data Collection

It turns out the ubiquitous Salesforce platform has added a tool that aggregates social factor data and serves it up to payers, providers, and community-based organizations. The data geeks there say they already have some early adopters at a few large academic centers.

The idea is to surface data on living conditions, socioeconomic status, and environmental factors across the healthcare ecosystem to allow for greater collaboration – without the dead ends you typically run into with healthcare’s many data siloes. It’s accessible by those who subscribe to the company’s Health Cloud product.

Perhaps a care coordinator working for a health plan and a peer support specialist working for a community organization could both see that Mary Smith lives in a rural area 25 miles away from the nearest medical center and probably needs transportation now and then. One or both of them might be able to help.

Our take: This is kind of like an EHR for everyone else. Nice way to jump the silo.