A fresh look at why organizations should shape their health equity strategy and tell their health equity story.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people across the country were forced to think more deeply about their own health, the health of their communities, and the systems intended to keep them healthy. This increased focus on health not only exposed long-standing health inequities, but brought renewed attention to the connection between our health and the socio-economic factors that shape our lives.
Soon, social determinants of health (SDOH) – sometimes called social drivers – gained national attention, but the concept isn’t new. Social determinants of health are defined as the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age, and have long been recognized by those in the medical and health fields.
In fact, even before the pandemic, researchers estimated SDOH accounted for 80-90% of healthcare outcomes in the U.S. A more recent study found an additional 10 percent reduction in healthcare costs – equating to more than $2,400 in annual savings per person – for people who were successfully connected to social services compared to a control group of members who were not.
The pandemic made SDOH, such as race and ethnicity, financial security, and access to health services, much more visible and salient to the general public. The increased awareness of how we are affected by these factors, combined with the heightened attention on public health, makes now an ideal time for organizations to tell more nuanced stories about SDOH and their health equity strategy. We encourage organizations who are authentically working in the SDOH space to consider these strategies to tell their story:
- Engage community partners. As you’re planning SDOH programs, include input from local organizations who are providing on the ground services to ensure your organization’s program is constructively addressing a need within the community.
- Bring it close to home. Social determinants of health don’t just affect underserved communities. According to Kaiser Permanente, 68 percent of adults had at least one unmet social need. In reality most people will know someone in their life at risk for a social determinant of health. As communicators it’s important to explain SDOH through the lens of a person’s family, friends and community.
- Define your SDOH narrative. It’s common to fall into the cycle of announcing individual SDOH programs – they are exciting and contribute to the public good. But as the organization builds out its cadre of SDOH programs, take a step back to define your organization’s overarching positioning and messaging related to SDOH. Be sure to get the input from various leaders across your organization and community partners to ensure the narrative includes messaging that will provide value to multiple stakeholders.
- Share the narrative broadly. A narrative is only as good as the people who use it. Once finalized, develop a formal rollout plan to introduce the narrative and how it should be used across your organization.
- Make it a communications priority. It’s not enough to just write a single blog post on initiative or provide a laundry list of all SDOH programs onto a landing page. Companies need to treat this topic like any corporate initiative. Build a runway that explains how SDOH are driving up healthcare costs through consistent, creative communications. Once the problem has been established, introduce your organization’s initiatives as one solution. Then continue to update your audience on the progress.
COVID-19 brought the concept of social determinants of health to media homepages and doorsteps nationwide. As you consider your health equity strategy, now is the time to start thinking creatively about explaining the benefits in a way people will understand and relate to.