Social Determinants of Health Drive Senior Living Success

Social determinants of health are at the center of the current healthcare discourse – and senior living providers need to recognize their role in this developing trend in order to position the industry for better resident outcomes and revenue.

Medical providers are just starting to collect data on health factors that fall outside the typical physical attributes, genetic history, and contributing behaviors associated with healthcare, often without the work of the senior living industry in mind.

In January 2019, UnitedHealthcare became one of the first, announcing that it was going to “expand its efforts to identify consumers who have non-medical needs considered social determinants of health”.

Defining Social Determinants of Health

For the unfamiliar, social determinants of health can encompass a variety of environmental factors including education, employment, physical environment, housing status, upbringing, and psychosocial circumstances. These determinants have been defined by the World Health Organization, and evidence suggests that about 60 percent of a person’s health can be attributed to these factors, according to Erdman.

Though it may seem intuitive that the overall picture of health isn’t determined by nature, that, in fact, nurture may have an even bigger effect, there hasn’t been a major push from medical providers to collect scientific data on this aspect of healthcare.

This is a mistake that healthcare as a whole is only just starting to correct, and one that the senior living providers need to embrace in order to reduce health costs and position themselves as a valued partner in the healthcare space.

Senior Living is the Epicenter of Social Determinants of Health

Social determinants aren’t just at the epicenter of the senior living industry – they are present in everything we do.

Senior living professionals are tasked with not only the care of their residents, but with creating an environment that promotes the most positive outcome for each of the social determinants of health, which subsequently positively impacts their residents’ future wellbeing.

M3’s Senior Living & Social Services (SLSS) practice group has been saying this for years – and it’s our guiding philosophy behind the strategies we create for all of our senior living clients.

We’ve spent decades working with key partners in this industry to identify ways to improve resident and employee health. Our mission is to bring to light the importance of quality senior living facilities, and provide advice on maintaining a high level of service, creating safe environments, and managing risk.

To do this, we believe that we need to change the way that we talk about senior living as an industry, and begin to highlight its impact on social determinants of health.

Changing the Way We See Senior Living

The current state of the senior living industry lends itself to discussing initiatives like a falls program, which paints the industry in a reactive light.

Ideally, the conversation about senior living would focus on the proactive measures that the industry is taking to ensure (and insure) the health and wellbeing of its residents and employees. The spotlight needs to be on why senior care is important, including highlighting the social determinants of health.

If you aren’t talking about how your business affects social determinants of health for your residents and employees, you are severely limiting your capabilities. You aren’t giving other organizations within the healthcare space a chance to see your value.

One area that shifting the conversation would improve: partnership with hospitals. If social determinants are the leading factors in overall health cost, then senior living facilities are the most important asset to the healthcare industry for collecting data.

When that data is collected, doors open. More opportunities arise for prioritizing social determinants of health in senior living facilities. In a recent article, Erdman notes that HHS Secretary Alexa Azar is keen to address these social determinants through the Medicare system as “managed medical care directly links care coordination performance to patient outcomes and costs.”

Revenue is another underlying factor to consider in this discussion. When senior living facilities are able to prioritize social determinants of health and provide quality care, they are able to bring down healthcare costs and improve their revenue line.

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M3 clients are already prioritizing the social determinants of healthcare in their employee benefits and business insurance strategies. Reach out to an SLSS Account Executive to learn more.

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