The Breakdown: 3 Ways Employers Can Address Social Determinants of Health

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“The Breakdown” is a series examining the latest developments in health and wellness, sharing what the research says about some of today’s most pressing issues, what it doesn’t, and where we still have more work to do. At Collective Health, we take a rigorous approach to our research to ensure we’re making informed decisions that improve the health of our members. In “The Breakdown,” we’ll share the insights we’ve learned through that process.

When assessing overall employee health, you might consider the quality of medical, dental and vision benefits, or the amount allotted on your company’s annual wellness stipend. But what about your employees’ zip code or salary level? These are social determinants of health—economic and social conditions that can influence both individual and group differences in health status—which can include housing and income, and also access to fundamental resources like clean air, quality food, and reliable transportation.

At Collective Health, we believe addressing the social determinants of health in your employee population is crucial to improving long term health outcomes. Below, we’ve outlined ways employers can address social determinants of health within their own employee populations:

  1. Understand the social determinants impacting your employee population.

The first step is to understand which social and environmental factors might affect employees at home and in their communities.

Resource: Use the free resource created by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation here to help gain clarity around social determinants of health by neighborhood. The site provides annually-updated, zip code-specific data on everything from smoking and obesity rates to income inequality and housing challenges. Another way to help assess social determinants at the individual level is with the PRAPARE survey.

How Collective Health can help: If you’re working with Collective Health and choose to use our Care Navigation services, we can identify factors impacting our members’ health using proprietary technology that analyzes a number of data sources, including local and individual social determinants of health. We have the capability to conduct detailed individual social determinants assessments and coordinate referrals to community-based service providers. For example, in the Bay Area we often help to address difficulties with paying rent and have a repository of resources for renter’s assistance. In other areas, we help to address food insecurity and keep data on food banks that offer diabetes-friendly foods.

  1. Provide access to support through community resources and more holistic health benefits.

Once you understand the factors that might impact your employees, it’s important to make sure they have access to community resources, like housing assistance and food pantries, as well as health benefits that meet their needs, like mental health support, childcare, and eldercare benefits.

Resource: You and your employees can quickly access local community resources through the link here.

How Collective Health can help: Personalized Recommendations with Collective Health, is a feature that sends notifications to members based on their situation and eligibility for different services. For example, if one of our members lives in an area with high rates of food insecurity, and is taking insulin for diabetes, our Personalized Recommendations can determine if the member might be at risk for low blood sugar. We recently published a peer-reviewed research study revealing people in this situation with commercial insurance plans often get low blood sugars during the last week of the month, when their incomes are lowest. Our machine learning models will prompt a personalized recommendation through email or the chat feature within My Collective™, our personalized member app and digital experience where members manage their health from wherever they are. In this example, the member would likely be suggested to receive support through diabetes-friendly food support programs. Additionally, our Care Navigation pharmacists can help members with insulin education and choosing appropriate diabetes medications, taking into account individual risks and benefits that members can discuss with their providers.

  1. Prevent fear of stigma by ensuring confidentiality.

When offering your employees access to community resources and holistic health benefits, you’ll want to make sure you’re respecting them and their privacy by protecting their information. Some employees may not want their employers to know that they’re struggling to afford transportation or food, or that they’re not picking up their medicines to instead pay for other critical expenses like housing or childcare. You can ensure your employees’ information is confidential by using a HIPAA-protected, PHI-secure network that allows people to access support privately.

How Collective Health can help: At Collective Health, privacy and security are core to what we do. Our commitment to privacy comes from a deep respect for our customers, and we design our products and services with security and privacy in mind. Learn more about our approach to security and privacy here.


Interested in learning more about social determinants of health? Check out our blog post The Breakdown: Understanding how geographic differences—and social determinants—impact health outcomes

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