Addressing Social Determinants of Health To Achieve Better Health Equity

Creating health equity means accounting for social determinants of health and making healthcare delivery inclusive of them. Learn how these social determinants of health can affect health equity and what healthcare providers can do to address the problem.

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No one should be at a disadvantage with respect to healthcare because of their race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, this is often the case. Social factors can influence health outcomes, although they usually are not directly related to the care patients receive, but rather their access to care. Here’s an overview of how social determinants of health (SDOH) can affect health equity and how providers and government programs can address them.

What is health equity?

Health equity refers to the idea everyone should have a fair and equal opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Achieving health equity is more complex than it sounds. Many factors affect both health and access to healthcare — and most are largely out of the control of the people they affect.

As a result, entire communities may find themselves at a disadvantage because of where they live, what they do for a living, what kind of education they have, and more. A focus on health equity aims to address underlying social determinants of health to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be healthy.

How social determinants of health affect health equity

Social determinants of health are the nonmedical factors influencing a person’s health. Consider some of the factors potentially putting someone at a disadvantage when it comes to maintaining their health or seeking access to care:

  • Lack of transportation. Individuals may have difficulty getting to appointments, picking up medications, or accessing emergency care without reliable transportation, leading to missed appointments, delays in treatment, and poorer health outcomes.
  • Limited access to food. People who live in food deserts or areas with limited access to fresh and healthy foods may struggle to obtain the necessary nutrients for good health, exacerbating chronic conditions and leading to poorer health outcomes.
  • Health and wellness illiteracy. Difficulty understanding health recommendations, navigating the healthcare system, or advocating for their own healthcare needs can result in missed opportunities for preventative care, delays in treatment, and poorer health outcomes.
  • Financial barriers. These include insurance, out-of-pocket medical care, medication costs, and lost wages due to missed work. Individuals who cannot afford healthcare may delay or avoid treatment altogether, leading to chronic conditions and poorer health outcomes.

These factors are interrelated and can impact healthcare access and health outcomes. For example, a lack of education may lead to a lack of understanding of health recommendations, while inadequate transportation may limit an individual’s ability to access healthcare services. Additionally, housing in high-crime areas or discriminatory neighborhoods can affect a person’s ability to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Addressing SDOH to achieve health equity

How can health organizations address social determinants of health? While it can be difficult for healthcare facilities to tackle SDOH independently, they can still significantly impact health equity.

Providers can manage the social needs of individuals by screening patients and referring them to appropriate resources, such as transportation, housing, employment, and food distribution programs. Provider organizations can also participate in programs to educate and provide needed health services to minority and disadvantaged populations.

Additionally, providers must identify any discriminatory actions and biases in themselves and make efforts to avoid them, as well as recognize inequitable behaviors in others and strive to educate them. This may involve scrutinizing standards and practices to determine where they might inadvertently put undue stress on certain groups. Addressing SDOH will require a collaborative effort among governmental entities, social programs, and health organizations.

Putting equity at the forefront

From rural populations to their urban counterparts, healthcare is vital regardless of the patient’s location or socioeconomic status. Creating equity means accounting for social determinants of health and making healthcare delivery inclusive of them. This effort also extends to billing and payments. Remember, it’s the responsibility of providers and their partners to ensure everyone has a level playing field — no matter the conditions.

Prepare your practice for a more inclusive future of healthcare. To learn more, visit or give us a call at 877-543-3635.