Using Social Determinants of Health Data to Improve Health Care and Health: A Learning Report

A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) learning report sheds new light on current and potential future uses of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) -related data to improve health and health care and promote a Culture of Health. RWJF consultants interviewed 38 leaders within and beyond the health sector who are working to address SDOH. Many expressed optimism that addressing the social, housing, food, and other needs of patients, or connecting them to services that can do so, will allow health care systems to better allocate resources to improve outcomes and decrease utilization of health care services.

There is wide recognition that the collection and use of SDOH data by the health care sectors is an emerging field. The field needs leadership and guidance—standards, tools, best practices, evidence, and more—on how best to improve individual and community health by addressing SDOH. Providing SDOH data to health care system providers, and bolstering the social service agencies that can address the social determinants of health, are key parts of building a Culture of Health. Changes in the health care landscape are helping to generate even greater interest in collecting and using of SDOH data to help improve the health of individuals and communities. Despite the challenges, people are generally positive about moving toward widespread collection and use of SDOH data, and they are prepared to tackle some thorny issues.