It is often said that social determinants of health are more important than many of the things we think of as more closely associated with health, such as health care services, health literacy, engagement in one’s own health care, adherence to prescribed health care treatment and medication.

In some of my recent podcast interviews, I’ve discussed population health with guests on Harlow on Healthcare. Not surprisingly, clinicians working for healthcare technology, health data or digital health companies have a perspective on population health that is closely aligned with the tools and services they provide.

Once in a while, health care provider organizations are able to pull back, take a broad perspective, and understand that addressing social determinants of health can be a win-win proposition. What do I mean by that? I mean that for short dollars a health care organization can go out of pocket, and provide goods and services to members of its community that provide an immediate benefit to those individuals and also tend to lower costs for the institution and for the system at large.

Exhibit A: Serving meals to folks who otherwise present in the ED on weekends mostly because it’s a guaranteed way to get a “free” meal. This gets the hospital out of the business of operating the most expensive soup kitchen imaginable.

Exhibit B: Seeking to ensure that the 25% of patients served in a big city ED who are homeless get connected with housing options. Homelessness can cause and exacerbate medical issues which can be more costly to treat than they are to prevent. The prescription is housing.

Somehow, Congress has not gotten the message. Instead, the GOP has been hell-bent on eviscerating Obamacare indirectly (having failed to do so directly). Eliminating the individual mandate is projected to result in 10,000 preventable deaths per year.

Here’s hoping that someday government can find its way back to promoting population health.

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting

Image: Reed George via Flickr CC