RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • What happens in clinical settings contributes to health outcomes, but what really matters is where people are born, live, work and age.
  • Person-centered health combines experience design and advanced analytics to help create deeper insights into social determinants of health.
  • Understanding social factors helps providers, payers and public health agencies deliver what people need in the moments that matter.


Neighborhood safety, access to fresh, nutritious food, transportation resources, mental health and even quality of social connections can all affect a person’s health for better or worse. Even so, the system is still organized around what happens in doctors’ offices and hospitals, ignoring the larger role of social determinants of health.

Stemming the tide of chronic disease—which will increase people’s quality of life while reducing rising healthcare costs—requires us to find new and better ways of understanding the whole person. In fact, research shows that providing more social service assistance correlates to much lower healthcare spending. The challenge is determining who needs that assistance and how we can best address each person’s needs.

Experience design + advanced analytics = person-centered health.

Healthcare stakeholders understand well that throwing dollars at skyrocketing healthcare costs is the fiscal equivalent of continually mopping the floor rather than turning off the faucet. We must continue to radically rethink how we can enable more people to achieve better health.

Today there is an opportunity to upend traditional approaches—putting individuals at the center and using data, analytics and service design to create the “Amazon experience” that will deliver what is truly needed in the moments that matter.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the urgency of understanding and addressing social determinants of health—with the people most vulnerable to the infection more likely to feel negative economic impacts, as well.

Stakeholders no longer face a choice between better outcomes or controlling costs. Through person-centered health, it's possible to achieve both.

Putting people at the center

Service design provides a way to help dive deep into who people are and the complex circumstances that affect their lives and their health. Designing with humans at the center makes it possible to infuse cultural competence into solutions. Resulting supports might include deploying Spanish-speaking workers to certain service centers and offering communications channels and vehicles based on individuals’ preferences (for example, smartphone videos for some consumers and hard-copy letters for others).

Human-centered design also provides a framework for creating end-to-end experiences that help support people as they move through their daily lives. Imagine a mobile app that sends alerts when a person is shopping at the grocery store, offers healthy recipes based on specific health conditions and serves up referrals to providers who are located near a person’s home. Or imagine a maternal health program that helps to provide telehealth options for early appointments, enabling expectant moms who need to conserve their time and money to appear in person for more critical appointments closer to their due date.

To complement service design, healthcare stakeholders also need access to a broad array of data and advanced analytics capabilities. Health plans and Medicaid agencies may be accustomed to studying claims data, while hospitals and other providers may focus on electronic medical record data. The key is to bring that information together along with additional third-party data to surface important insights related to social risk factors.

These insights will help in understanding individuals and crafting personalized engagement and supports to meet them where they are—and, ultimately, enable better outcomes.



Stakeholder silos

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

Ineffective referrals

There has been a lack of well-established referral networks across healthcare, human service, social and community organizations.

Limited valuation mechanisms

When payers can’t quantify the costs AND value of services rendered, they can’t evaluate feasibility or ROI of socially focused interventions.

Short-term financial outlook

Upstream investments in social factors have a much longer horizon for realizing cost benefits, yet payers often look for immediate cost savings.

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Person-centered health: Bold vision, better outcomes

Economic stability. Education. Neighborhood and home environment. Social and community context. While there’s no “prescription” for addressing these social factors, they have a vast impact on every individual’s health and wellness.

Unraveling and addressing these factors starts with a bold vision for combining new insights, technologies and partnerships to address the needs of individuals—whether patients, members, health or social care providers, or citizens.

Person-centered health weaves together comprehensive, effective interventions that help address social risk factors and improve health outcomes. To advance toward person-centered health, payers, providers and public sector health entities need proven ways to:

1. Develop

Support development of culturally competent and relevant offerings to help people overcome the obstacles to address social determinants of health.

2. Collaborate

Collaborate across health providers and community and human service organizations to develop new and innovative solutions.

3. Understand

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

4. Calculate

Calculate return on investments for implementing SDOH programs with a holistic, multi-stakeholder approach that apportions risk and reward fairly.

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Let’s change how we engage with people

By moving upstream to understand root causes of chronic disease, we can begin to change how we engage with people, creating personalized, culturally competent experiences to build trust and bring them the help they need at the moments that matter.

Everything it takes to do that—including human-centered design techniques, advanced data analytics, digital technologies and ecosystem management approaches—is ready.

Stakeholders no longer face a choice between better outcomes or spending smarter. Through person-centered health, it’s possible to achieve both.

Michael Petersen, MD

Senior Manager - SDoH – Accenture Health

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