We know social determinants of health (SDoH) have a greater impact on health outcomes than clinical care and this realization is driving significant change in the healthcare industry and fostering more collaboration between payers, providers, and CBOs.
These new cross-sector partnerships are instrumental in serving vulnerable populations and reducing social risk and for this reason, community-based organizations (CBOs) are poised to become leaders in the space, as they are fully equipped to offer and deliver reliable social care.
What’s needed to make these partnerships successful? Technological innovation, which allows for greater communication, data collection and sharing, and outcome measurement, all of which are needed to drive better health outcomes.
The importance of community-healthcare partnerships
“We know that SDoH are a main driver of healthcare inequities and racial health disparities,” said Ernest Cawvey, Executive Director of Macomb Community Action in Southeast Michigan, during a recent Healthify-hosted webinar. “From a healthcare institution angle, it is essential that you have community-based partners.”
As of right now, there are barriers in screening for and addressing SDoH in a clinical setting, Cawvey points out. This is why his organization partners with schools and other institutions to increase physical access to services, affordability, culturally appropriate communication, and employ diverse outreach methods for hard-to-reach patients.
Cawvey cited the success of a community syringe exchange program, which is a harm reduction strategy launched by CBO partners. They can be controversial, Cawvey admitted, but these programs have proven to be extremely safe, cost-saving, and effective in reducing the transmission of HIV and other infections.
While launching a syringe exchange program on their own would have been “politically difficult,” Cawvey admits, Macomb Community Action was able to partner with other CBOs to support the program. Such partnerships can allow partners to innovate with “less backlash or difficulty” than if they did the program on their own.
Trudy Williams, Director of Utilization Management at Team Wellness Center, agreed. “We do a lot well, but we don’t do it all well,” she said during the webinar. “Without partners, the community suffers. Families are not intact. Communities are not well and whole. And we definitely saw that in these last 18 months.”
Team Wellness Center has partnered with the Department of Corrections in Detroit, as well as local jails to assist justice-involved individuals after their release with housing, employment, and access to health care. Team Wellness Center saw an increase in need, as more and more residents faced social barriers amidst the pandemic.
As communities continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, sustaining and expanding community-healthcare partnerships is essential, said Williams.
The role of technology in improving the coordination and scale of social services
Healthcare teams don’t want another platform to log into, said Cawvey, but building strong cross-sector partnerships requires innovative technology. Such technology should increase interoperability and reduce the need for multiple platforms—and it’s imperative that individuals remain at the center of that technology.
Early community-healthcare technology saw the healthcare industry “inadvertently pushing a logjam of referrals to CBOs,” said Cawvey, without regard for the patient or the service provider. This is why patient-centered technology is so important. Beyond being a referral generator, this interoperable platform considers CBO capacity and eligibility criteria.
Patient-centered technology incorporates SDoH-related information in patient records, allowing payers and providers more opportunity to prioritize whole-person care, which leads to better care decisions and more effective coordination between partners.
As the healthcare industry moves toward value-based payment systems, it’s technology and data that will provide both the accountability for current programs and a roadmap for the future. “[Data] is the driving force to know if you’re meeting the need, and if you’re meeting it well, or if you need to tweak it or change it,” said Williams.
When social services are fully integrated into the clinical ecosystem, healthcare partners can not only refer patients to social services for urgent needs, said Cawvey, but they can plan strategically as a cross-sector team and invest in prevention, in order to avoid bigger and more devastating costs in the future.
To learn more, watch the webinar recording here.