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SDOH Screening Campaign Offers How-To for Clinical Practice

The Physicians Foundation SDOH screening campaign seeks to help physicians develop skills around discussing SDOH and getting those screenings into clinical practice.

The Physicians Foundation has launched the Let’s Take Five campaign, which aims to give doctors resources to start conversations about the social determinants of health and implement SDOH screening into their clinical practice.

These resources come as more doctors report barriers to SDOH screening, The Physicians Foundation said. In its 2022 Survey of America’s Physicians, the organization found that most doctors agree that social determinants of health have a significant impact on overall patient outcomes, but more than half (six in 10) said they don’t have the time or resources to do so.

This campaign, which is starting out with two new resources for physicians, aims to give medical professionals the tools and verbiage to make SDOH screening a part of clinical practice.

"As physicians, we are well aware of the significant burden that drivers of health have on our patients' health, and the toll it takes on us when we are unable to adequately address them," Gary Price, MD, president of The Physicians Foundation, said in a press release.

"It is absolutely critical that physicians are given the support and resources they need to address these challenges,” Price added. “The Physicians Foundation is committed to providing solutions and strategies for physicians to not only have the ability to address their patients' needs, but also be empowered to do so."

The first Let’s Take Five campaign resource outlines ways healthcare organizations can train providers to have conversations about social determinants of health with patients. Particularly, the resource lays out five key steps to guide SDOH communication:

  • Prepare: Preparation may range from ensuring cultural competency and humility to having a list of social services that can address a patient’s reported SDOH
  • Build rapport: Having a patient-provider relationship defined by trust will help patients feel more comfortable speaking about their social needs; organizations should therefore tell patients why they are screening for these social factors
  • Be empathetic: Using active listening, providers can make patients feel heard and also prioritize multiple SDOH that may crop up during discussion
  • Encourage confidence: Healthcare providers may also highlight where patients have strengths, which may help patients identify resources that can help fill their needs
  • Offer immediate next steps: Organizations should always have a social services referral available for the SDOH for which they screen and offer a detailed action plan for patients.

The second Let’s Take Five campaign resource gives tips for implementing screenings for the five most common social determinants of health—food security, housing stability, transportation access, utilities access, and interpersonal safety:

  • Prepare all staff for whom implementing SDOH screening will create workflow change. This includes getting staff input for how to best optimize the process and ease any disruptions.
  • Design the screening process. This means determining which screening questions to ask patients and how. Organizations have various existing screening options they may adopt for SDOH screening.
  • Establish a referral process. This means connecting with community-based organizations as partners and having a streamlined system for helping patients access social services. This may require using an SDOH referral management technology.
  • Implement the SDOH screening. The resource advised starting small and then implementing screenings practice-wide. As noted in the previous resource, discussing with patients the rationale behind SDOH screening is essential.
  • Submit to the CMS Merit-based Incentive Programs (MIPS) in order to get quality payment credit.

In addition to launching this SDOH educational campaign, The Physicians Foundation has also announced five grantees that are helping to further SDOH screening at the provider level. Awards went to medical associations that are offering up specialized resources to healthcare organizations tailored to implementing SDOH screening.

Grantees include Arizona Medical Association, Center for a Healthy Maryland, Foundation of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, Indiana Medical Foundation and Maine Medical Education Trust.

"These five medical associations are leading the way to ensure that physicians and their teams have the tools they need to improve patients' lives," Price said. "Through the development of new resources and programs, we are working to make tailored patient care easier and more effective. Together, we will continue to be a catalyst for change so that our patients' health and wellbeing are no longer dependent on the five key types of drivers of health."

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