Using ‘social determinants’ data to improve health care

Some data-gathering companies have begun to scan public records for data on people’s “social determinants of health”—such as arrest records, bankruptcy filings, or marriages and divorces—and are offering it for sale to insurers and health systems, with the hope that the data, combined with information patients tell their doctors during face-to-face visits, could help predict patients’ future health care needs and costs.

According to a July 23, 2018 MedPage Today article, some experts think using social determinants data could help clinicians better target care—for instance, if the data indicates that a patient is from a low socioeconomic environment, the clinician might write that person a prescription for a generic instead of a brand-name drug.

But other experts say using the data raises ethical and privacy issues and may be unnecessary.

Ashish Jha, K.T. Li Professor of Global Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said there’s little evidence that the data would actually predict riskier populations or help improve care.

“There’s a long history of people building algorithms like this and most of them have not done much,” he told MedPage Today. “Besides, most doctors already know when their patients are in trouble.”

Read the MedPage Today article: Can ‘Social Determinants’ Data Really Improve Patient Care?