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The impact of social determinants on individuals is vast and diverse. They can impact an individual’s understanding of healthcare for themselves and their family as well as affect their access to healthcare and even further, access to the “right healthcare” for their needs.

What are social determinants? According to the World Health Organization, social determinants of health are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies and political systems.

These individuals may also be the most at-risk and need additional care and resources. Many times, the need of the individual is specific or specialized without a “general” solution, often due to its complexity. This can be further complicated by the complexity of our healthcare system and has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As individuals and their families are affected by social determinants, the community is also impacted. Does the community have the healthcare resources that meet the needs that that individual or family needs? Who, and how, are these resources communicated to the affected individual? Additionally, what is the financial impact to the individual, family and the community? For further consideration, how does the healthcare system or resource know that someone is in need and are they able to offer specialization to meet these needs?

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The social determinants and needs of our community, individuals and family place a substantial responsibility on our healthcare system and the nurses that serve them. This is not a one-size-fits-all, or a single solution, but is multifaceted. Additionally, this is not a new issue and many healthcare systems have worked to address these needs and invoke positive change over the years. An article from Modern Healthcare offers a helpful timeline of the progress made as it relates to social determinants of health.

Additional examples of the healthcare system’s involvement in providing a solution to this situation include:

  • The role of nurse navigators and their impact on providing patient-centered care to ensure that individuals receive the best health outcomes possible.
  • The identification at-risk individuals and ability to assess health needs from the onset of patient intake at healthcare facility.
  • The referral of patients to help them access benefits and utilize various support services.
  • The goal to improve access and quality care for hard-to-reach individuals that need support the most.
  • Partnerships with community groups or organizations to expand reach of individuals in need of care.
  • The ability and responsibility to serve as an advocate for social change and promote continuous clinical experience and learning opportunities for nurses.
  • Involvement in the community and the ability to act and react quickly based on needs in the area.

By prioritizing health in their community, nurses and healthcare organizations together can help move the needle on addressing social determinants of health. It remains a shared responsibility and area of focus.