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Social Determinants of Health: Overcoming The Greatest Barriers to Patient Care


As United Ways across the country dedicate themselves to fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community, and 2-1-1s respond to millions of requests for assistance a year, we continue to find that individuals struggling with one or more of these domains are often struggling with underlying challenges like access to healthy food, stable housing, and reliable transportation.

Leading studies indicate social and environmental factors account for nearly 70 percent of all health outcomes.

We are not alone-- health systems are also realizing this and working to leverage their resources to address these "social determinants of health." To tackle complex social needs, health systems and other institutions often jump to a solution: why not create a directory of available resources that our patients or clients can use to find what they need?

While access to information is a critical first step, a directory alone is not enough to solve all critical social needs challenges. Success depends on ensuring the information is comprehensive and current, that application guidelines and requirements are clear, and that staff or volunteers are trained to help patients navigate structural barriers.

This is the mission of 2-1-1: we help millions (literally) of people in communities across the country not only find help with the most pressing challenge, but also address the other underlying challenges they and their families are facing.

That’s why United Way, 2-1-1 and Health Leads came together to publish a whitepaper — Social Determinants of Health: Overcoming The Greatest Barriers to Patient Care — to share lessons from their decades of experience identifying and solving for complex challenges and navigating clients to available essential resources. The resulting whitepaper is designed to help healthcare and human service professionals implement more effective social needs interventions by encouraging them to partner with us, rather than reinvent the wheel.

We hope the insights included in this whitepaper will help healthcare systems and community-based service organizations to create stronger, more effective social needs interventions.