Starting an initiative based on social determinants of health (SDOH) to improve health outcomes may seem like the hard work. You must address strategy in many areas like workflows, evaluation and ROI assessments. If you want an SDOH initiative to grow and thrive for many years to come, you may need to consider some areas you might not have thought of.
An organization driving SDOH program implementation needs to consider their workforce, and the need for training and capacity building. For example, health plan leaders should ensure that care managers are trained in understanding health equity, cultural competence and how their programs can help reduce health disparities. Employees should be familiar with the aim of health equity and why it’s important. Health equity can be a delicate topic to discuss with patients. Make sure your staff are appropriately equipped to have those discussions not just with patients and families, but also with each other.
This type of workforce development is important to foster sensitivity to the needs of your population around cultural competence, understanding their preferences and making sure that your organization is on the same page from a vision perspective. Leaders should consider the positive impact that their workforce diversity and inclusion effort play in reducing health inequities. When you’re rolling out an SDOH initiative, everyone in your workforce also needs to understand where you’re headed on the roadmap.
It’s important for health plans to partner with community-based organizations (CBO). Often, CBOs provide valued services and support to community members, having a potentially deeper understanding of the community’s culture, preferences and needs through trusted built relationships. Both organizations should strive for a strong collaborative partnership throughout the process that leverages each organization’s strengths. This means both organizations should make decisions together and continue to evolve the vision.
The partnership should be of equitable power and use a strengths-based approach. If a health plan can add funds, it doesn’t make them more powerful in this type of partnership because the CBO provides valuable trusted social capital. Good communication between organizations helps ensure program offerings meet the needs of the participants.
These partnerships are also about longevity. For example, a CBO often operates using grant funding. Proof of participation and operational results related to participation is usually required by funders. Partnerships can ensure the level of program participation required to maintain funding or procure additional funds to support the needs of the community and improve health outcomes. Think long-term. It’s good for your programs, for the CBOs, and most importantly, for the population you are looking to serve.
Organizations that take on SDOH initiatives should plan on documenting results. Anyone that’s been in this field for more than five years can tell you what the basic barriers are, but contributing to the field with research on program findings will peg your organization as an industry leader. That’s why you need to test what works and publish your results! Look at available current literature to ensure you are designing your interventions using evidence-based information. Also, it’s important for private and public organizations like health plans and CBOs to partner with academic institutions, a neutral party, to publish peer-reviewed academic literature.
To set up your SDOH program for success requires a lot of thought and effort. Thinking long term is what will sustain your program and enable you to help more people at a level that will bring a measurable difference to their lives. Learn more building your SDOH business case with our playbook.