Positioning Social Service Providers as Leaders in the Future of Health


Compared to other wealthy countries, the United States has some unusual healthcare spending habits. Other developed nations like Germany, France, and the UK spend nearly twice as much on social services as they do on healthcare but in the United States, we spend almost twice as much on healthcare as we do on social services. However, there’s a growing consensus that social and behavioral factors determine over 60% of health outcomes and are better understood as intersectional health issues. There’s also significant evidence that shows that higher spending on social services addresses health outcomes more effectively than investing in healthcare alone. It’s clear that our priorities are misplaced.

This is symptomatic of a deeper trend in how the healthcare industry approaches community health: the widespread dismissal of the social sector as a leader in healthcare innovation. Currently, low-income communities around the country rely on patchwork collections of social service providers to solve the hardest, most expensive health problems with the least funding and fewest resources. Yet, healthcare organizations are still positioning social services as peripheral—rather than integral—to healthcare (despite promising new initiatives). Short of reversing decades of spending habits, how can the healthcare industry position social service providers as leaders in the future of health?


Start with a Name

In our work, we develop coordinated networks of health and social service partners. We approach this development with the understanding that every dimension of an individual’s circumstances—be it their housing or their daily prescription regimen—plays an important role in their overall health and wellbeing. At Healthify, you’ll hear us use “Community Partner” to describe the diverse organizations that work together to serve the communities we support.

But much of the healthcare industry is catching up to this approach. The most common care coordination models rely on an outdated mindset that positions traditional healthcare providers at the center of care, with “community-based organizations” or “CBOs” providing peripheral support for needs like access to food and behavioral health. This type of approach perpetuates the imbalance between the health and social sectors. Healthify’s care coordination models are built on the fundamental belief that every organization, from the biggest hospital to the smallest homeless shelter, is an equal community-based partner in care.

Even the Playing Field

Beyond just using equitable language to refer to the social service and healthcare providers in our networks, we actively address the most acute imbalance amongst them: resources. By working alongside our clients—like our incredible partners at the Howard County Health Department and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas—to provide service and technology grants to our Community Partners, we’re able to even the playing field for under-resourced organizations.

We work directly with new Community Partners to understand their mission and resources, and deploy our team of consultants to help them build capacity to better coordinate care. Since each strategy is customized for every organization, this could mean implementing new provider workflows at a behavioral health agency, deploying our platform at a senior center, or providing analytics support to a public school system. Healthify’s community framework is designed to provide custom support to help even smaller organizations collaborate at the highest level.

Open a Seat at the Table

The most direct tactic that Healthify uses to empower social service providers as leaders in community health is giving them leadership roles in our networks. We develop steering committees and leadership councils in our deployments to help us set priorities and goals for our work. In typical coordination models, these spaces are usually reserved for Medical Directors, Chief Medical Officers, and other medical leaders. At Healthify, we invite leaders from organizations like food programs and transportation agencies to sit alongside those from hospitals and health insurers.

Let’s Work Together

These are just some of the ways that our team is working to position social service providers as leaders in the future of health. Together with our clients and Community Partners, we’re constantly innovating new approaches for more effective and equitable solutions to the problems facing our highest-needs communities.

Are you a healthcare provider interested in collaborating with Community Partners to more effectively serve your patients? A social service provider with game-changing insights into improving your community’s wellbeing? We’d love to talk. Connect with us on Twitter or schedule a demo to start the conversation.

Topics: social determinants of health community-based organizations care coordination

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