Practice Management

Social determinants of health and the hospitalist


Education is key

In 2020 and beyond, hospitalists will hear more about the social determinants of health, Dr. Jacobs-Shaw concluded. “Without addressing those social determinants, we aren’t going to be able to meaningfully impact outcomes or be effective stewards of health care costs – addressing the psychosocial factors and root causes of patients coming in and out of the hospital.”

He added that self-education is key for hospitalists and the teams they work with – to be more aware of the link between health outcomes and social determinants. Guidelines and other resources on social determinants of health are available from the American College of Physicians and the American Association of Family Physicians. ACP issued a position paper on addressing social determinants of health to improve patient care,while AAFP has a research page on its website dedicated to social determinants of health, highlighting a number of initiatives and resources for physicians and others.9

The American Hospital Association has produced fact sheets on ICD-10CM code categories for social determinants of health, including 11 ICD-10 “Z” codes, numbered Z55-Z65, which can be used for coding interventions to address social determinants of health. Other experts are looking at how to adapt the electronic health record to capture sociodemographic and behavioral factors, and then trigger referrals to resources in the hospital and the broader community, and how to mobilize artificial intelligence and machine learning to better identify social needs.

“Our doctors really want to be able to take care of the whole patient, while being stewards of health care resources. But sometimes we feel powerless and wonder how we can have a bigger impact on people, on populations” Dr. Jacobs-Shaw said. “Remember it only takes one voice within an organization to start to elevate this topic.”


1. Rappleye E. Physicians say social determinants of health are not their responsibility. Becker’s Hospital Review. 2018 May 15.

2. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. County Health Rankings, 2014.

3. Freeman, GA. The extensivist model. Health Leaders Magazine, 2016 Sep 15.

4. Kind AJ et al. Neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage and 30-day rehospitalization: A retrospective cohort study. Ann Intern Med. 2014 Dec 2;161(11):765-74.

5. National Institute for Health Care Management. Addressing social determinants of health can improve community health & reduce costs.

6. Vial PB. Boundless collaboration: A philosophy for sustainable and stabilizing housing investment strategies. Health Progress: Journal of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. September-October 2019.

7. Social determinants of health: New solutions for growing complexities. Op-Med, a blog by Sound Physicians. 2019 Aug 1.

8. The hunger vital sign: A new standard of care for preventive health.

9. Daniel H et al. Addressing social determinants to improve patient care and promote health equity: An American College of Physicians position paper. Ann Intern Med. 2018;168:557-578.


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