Family physicians need to know how to identify and address social determinants of health to improve health outcomes for patients and populations.
The results of an AAFP member survey indicate that while 85% of surveyed physicians state they believe social needs are directly related to worse health, 80% are not confident in their capacity to address their patients' social needs. In response to this need and a 2016 AAFP Congress of Delegates resolution, the AAFP formed the Center for Diversity and Health Equity to address social determinants of health with The EveryONE Project.
The EveryONE Project aims to address social determinants of health by:
AAFP has a long history of supporting health equity and reducing health disparities in patient care. But we can’t achieve our goal of health equity in family medicine without also recognizing and making efforts to address racial equity as a root cause. There's still work to do.
This month, we honor Black family physicians, medical students and AAFP staff, and their contributions to the Academy, the family medicine specialty and the practice of healing. It's also an opportunity to continue important conversations.
Due to their comprehensive training, family physicians are uniquely qualified to care for people of all ages—newborns to seniors. They provide the majority of health care for underserved rural and urban populations in the U.S., and treat a more diverse population of patients than any other medical specialty. This often places family physicians as leaders in their communities. As leaders, family physicians have an important role to raise awareness about health disparities and help patients address social and economic drivers of health inequities.
The AAFP has a long history of supporting health equity and reducing health disparities in patient care. One of the AAFP’s key strategic objectives is to “take a leadership role in addressing diversity and social determinants of health as they impact individuals, families, and communities across the lifespan and to strive for health equity.” The EveryONE Project is our vehicle to help achieve this objective.
University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. County Health Rankings & Roadmaps 2017.
The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ranks the health of nearly every county in the U.S. They identify four classifications of health factors: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. Based on the group’s methodology, as well as previous research, each health factor is weighted1 and shown with activities and specific factors that contribute to social determinants of health.2 According to the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, factors such as health behaviors (30%), clinical care (20%), social and economic factors (40%), and physical environment (10%) are attributed to SDOH.
Race, gender, and geography are not implicit in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps model, but also impact health outcomes through discrimination and social stratification, and as a result, impact life expectancy rates. Gaps in life expectancy are evident among racial and ethnic groups, as well as between genders and by education level.3
Additionally, a nearly 20-year gap exists in life expectancy at birth between counties with the highest and lowest life expectancy rates.4
Public Health Framework for Reducing Health Inequities
Used with permission from the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII)
A complex system of political, economic, social, behavioral, and medical factors influence health equity. Health equity scholars use an analogy of a stream of causation to describe this system. Upstream factors refer to underlying root causes of health inequities, such as the structural socioeconomic and political environments that leads to social stratification.5 Downstream factors refer to those factors that are nearer to where health outcomes are observed, such as behavior and disease.5 This upstream and downstream continuum reflects key factors that determine health outcomes.6
Achieving health equity requires actions to address both upstream and downstream factors. Upstream interventions are more population-based in nature and include actions such as advocacy, policy change, and community empowerment. Downstream interventions are more individual in nature and include actions such as education, healthy behaviors, and access to health care.6
The AAFP recognizes the complexity of these systems and the challenges our members face in helping their patients address their individual health factors. Additionally, the new Medicare payment model, the Quality Payment Program (QPP), focuses Medicare payments on measuring the quality of care you provide more than ever before. Understanding the SDOH of your patient population and helping them address factors that improve health outcomes is imperative to your patients’ overall health and potentially your bottom line.
The AAFP has identified four strategic priorities that will guide our work for The EveryONE Project. We’d like to hear from you about what interests you. If you are interested in any of these issues, or learning more about health equity, please email The EveryONE Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The film is sponsored by the Center for History of Family Medicine, making it availble to all AAFP members.