Fact: Less than a third of US hospitals are documenting patients’ social needs

Even though 90% of them are collecting it in some manner

Less than a third of US hospitals are currently integrating social determinants of health data into their EHR, according to Deloitte’s recent survey. Though 90 percent of facilities are trying to understand their patients’ needs better, such efforts are largely unpaid, unled, and unorganized, and thus remain ad-hoc and informal.

While we might say, “well at least 90 percent are screening their communities” that obscures the bigger picture. Hospitals that can’t collect these data properly might not stay alive in the long term. This shift has finally prompted EHR companies to play catch up.

The challenges of capturing this data are numerous and obvious: unstructured data, workflow, shortages of leadership and organization, limitations of reimbursement programs at the state and federal levels. These overlay, the tremendous staffing and burnout challenges of engaging populations suffering from behavioral illnesses, chronic diseases, and a litany of social economic and environmental stressors.

72 percent of health systems reported a lack of dedicated funding to address their populations’ social determinants of health. While some are quick to criticize hospitals’ complaints about money, huge businesses don’t pivot overnight, and their financial turmoil is real. So in the short term, health systems are right to focus their efforts on highly acute inpatient segments that deliver an immediate ROI, but hospitals understand that health problems tend to originate outside of their own walls, where everything is much less expensive.

As US Healthcare tiptoes towards more accountability for the total cost of care, the ability to measure will dictate the ability to manage. This report suggests that hospitals understanding patients’ lifestyles and environmental contexts (the “80%”) and capturing the data electronically will become the bottleneck to long-term sustainability and competitiveness under value-based payment models as well as emerging tools in AI and consumer engagement.