Survey Shows Challenges Of Collecting, Integrating, And Using Social Determinants Of Health Data In Healthcare

Approximately 80% of healthcare organizations collect social determinants of health (SDOH) data, according to a study by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) of health information professionals, however there are still challenges with the gathering, coding, and utilization of this data. To better comprehend the operational reality of how SDOH data is gathered, recorded, and utilized in healthcare settings, AHIMA enlisted NORC at the University of Chicago to undertake the study.

Social determinants of health include environmental factors that can have a significant impact on health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. These factors include locations where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age. This was confirmed in a study conducted by rsearchers at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute that found that social and economic factors can influence health outcomes and quality of life to the tune of up to 40%, and they have twice as much of an impact as those related to clinical care. 

One of the most significant difficulties that healthcare organizations encounter when trying to gather and make use of the data is the lack of standardization and integration of SDOH data into a patient’s health record. Moreover, a lack of training and instruction on the collection, coding, and use of SDOH data has also been highlighted by healthcare professionals. Furthermore, the survey indicated that the exchange of SDOH data between community-based referral organizations and healthcare professionals is not commonplace.

The findings of this white paper are even more important now that it appears that the Biden-Harris Administration is dedicated to addressing health disparity and improving the collection, use, and exchange of SDOH data. The study’s findings are clearly relevant to the current state of healthcare, which is emphasizing socioeconomic determinants of health and promoting health equity. AHIMA’s CEO, Wylecia Wiggs Harris, has stressed the significance of SDOH data and the crucial role that health information professionals play in collecting, sharing, and using the data. Harris hopes to collaborate with policymakers, providers, and key stakeholders to develop comprehensive solutions to address the challenges that were revealed in the survey.

While surveys are useful for gaining insight into the attitudes, opinions, and experiences of respondents, they are limited in providing in-depth context and clarity. The nuances of the issues involved in SDOH data make additional research, such as focus groups with respondents and other key stakeholders, crucial in developing specific and actionable recommendations. To create greater equity and improve the experiences and outcomes of vulnerable populations, it is crucial that research includes the voices of those who will be impacted, such as conversations with patients and community-based organizations that deliver critical social services. In conclusion, while the white paper commissioned by AHIMA is a step forward, additional research is necessary to address the challenges and opportunities associated with collecting, integrating, and using SDOH data.