RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • Clinical care is vital, but what really matters is where people are born, live, work and age—the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH).
  • Health and social care systems are still organised to treat people in categories at best—not as individuals.
  • Our clinical and social care facilities are aligned with these segments, but care problems are interwoven with each other and the people we live with.
  • Coordinated medical care alone cannot ensure that citizens achieve optimal health outcomes.


The less privileged are most affected by crises

As with most crises, the less privileged have been worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not a new phenomenon. Research and real-world evidence prove time and again that our health and wellbeing are largely dictated by place of birth, socio-economic class, education and work, and age. That’s because economic stability and living conditions directly determine the extent of access to fresh, nutritious food, transport, mental health and, especially, the quality of social connections—which all affect health for better or worse.

Obstacles to change

Human bodies are powered by complex systems that have distinct yet interdependent roles. The same is true of the ecosystems that underpin social factors and influence health outcomes. Some of the most persistent barriers to consideration of SDoH are structural and institutional obstacles, including:

Stakeholder silos

When stakeholders operate in silos, it stymies the exchange of information around social needs, costs and available services.

Ineffective collaboration

There has been a lack of well-established operational collaboration between healthcare organisations, social service agencies, and national institutions.

Limited valuation mechanisms

When healthcare payers can’t quantify the costs and value of services rendered, they can’t evaluate financial feasibility or return on social intervention investments.

Short-term financial outlook

While upstream investments in social factors have a much longer horizon for realising cost benefits, often new initiatives are expected to deliver immediate cost savings.

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Experience design + advanced analytics = person-centered health

Health and social care stakeholders understand that throwing money at skyrocketing healthcare costs is the fiscal equivalent of continually mopping the floor rather than closing the tap. The current environment provides an opportunity to upend traditional approaches—putting individuals at the centre and using data, analytics and service design will deliver what is truly needed in the moments that matter.

Service design (where services are built around the true needs of users and customers) can help dive deep into who people are and the complex circumstances that affect their lives and their health. To complement service design, healthcare stakeholders need access to a broad array of data and advanced analytics capabilities. These insights will help health and social care providers understand individuals and craft personalised engagement and support to meet them where they are and, ultimately, enable better outcomes.

Getting doctors to sustainably buy into digital health could have a big impact on adoption

Do you understand the moments that matter in a person’s life?

Social factors have a vast impact on individual health and wellness. Unravelling and addressing these factors starts with a bold vision to combine new insights, technologies and partnerships and address specific needs. To move toward person-centred health, national organisation and health and social care providers need proven ways to:

Support the development of relevant offerings to help overcome obstacles to addressing social determinants of health.

Collaborate across health and social care providers, national institutions and communities to develop new and innovative solutions.

Drive a deeper understanding of specific social determinants that drive individual health outcomes.

Calculate return on SDoH programme investments with a holistic, multi-stakeholder approach that apportions risk and reward fairly.

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Ulla Kuukka

Senior Manager – Consulting, Health


Sauli Hyvärinen

Consultant – Health Strategy & Consulting

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