Op-ed: Hospitals, health care systems should tackle social drivers of health

May 26, 2023 – Health care systems should use their resources to address a wide range of social drivers that lead to health problems, instead of only focusing on medical interventions such as drugs and surgeries, according to an op-ed co-authored by Michelle Williams, Dean of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a May 24 article published in Time, Williams and co-author Donald Berwick—former administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and President Emeritus at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement—noted that hospitals and health care systems spend most of their enormous wealth on medical interventions, even though they only account for at most 20% of health outcomes. The other contributors to health—social drivers such as access to fresh food and clean air—are largely ignored in pursuit of profit. “Billing for cancer treatments makes money,” the co-authors wrote. “Using institutional clout to demand sidewalks and parks and streetlights in poor communities does not.”

Williams and Berwick highlighted examples of health care systems working to address social drivers of health, such as building affordable housing or launching food pharmacies that provide fresh produce to low-income communities.

“Hospitals and health care systems must mobilize to treat—and ultimately, prevent—diseases caused by poverty, inequality, racism, and loneliness just as aggressively as they mobilize to attack a cancer with sophisticated drugs and surgeries,” they wrote.

Read the Time op-ed: American health care is broken. Major hospitals need to be part of the solution