At Wellsource, we’re obviously huge advocates of administering health risk assessments (HRAs) routinely and frequently—and not just because that’s “what we do.” It’s because we fully recognize the benefits to both your organization and your population to having up-to-date information to work with. Now during the COVID-19 pandemic as we adjust to the “new normal” it’s important to ensure that you’re providing your population with the resources and interventions that best suit their needs, while also providing them with information to help them effectively manage their health.
At face value, the pandemic is impacting everyone in similar ways—we’re all encouraged to wear masks, up the ante with hand washing, and do our best to socially distance. However, it doesn’t take much digging to realize that beyond the guidelines, some segments of the population are feeling the effects of COVID-19 in drastically different ways—and that can affect their long-term health. One of the benefits of administering an HRA at this time is that it can provide the data you need to identify Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) that may be impacting your population.
How do SDoH Impact Health?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), SDoH are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age—and they’re a massive external factor on one’s health. For example, in a recent webinar with the National Wellness Institute, Wellsource Health and Research Director Dr. Brittany U. Carter illustrated how someone who grew up in the suburbs surrounding a thriving city, obtained a college degree, has a well-paying job with benefits, and is surrounded by healthy food options is more likely to be in better health than someone who grew up in a small rural town with underfunded public schools, unreliable (or no) public transportation, few career opportunities, and a single grocery store located miles from their home.
By administering an HRA to your population you’ll be able to get an idea of how SDoHs are impacting their health. For example, results may indicate that many members aren’t routinely eating fruits and vegetables—this could indicate that there are food scarcity issues that should be addressed.
Similarly, data that shows many people aren’t receiving routine medical care—such as their annual physical or vaccinations—could indicate that either there’s a lack of access to healthcare resources in the area or that there’s misinformation regarding the importance of these practices. One surprising finding in the Wellsource Annual Data Review: Getting the Full Picture of Wellness was that, despite having Medicaid coverage, over half of respondents were not up to date with their vaccinations. Access to medical insurance isn’t the concern in this situation, so what SDoH might be impacting vaccination rate?
In any case, HRA results will provide your organization with insight into where to direct new or existing wellness programming to help address health disparities across populations.
HRA Data: Providing Important SDoH Insights During COVID-19
As more research is done on COVID-19 it’s becoming apparent that certain populations are more at risk than others, and some of their risk is derived from environmental factors. For example, a disproportionate number of those hospitalized with the illness are Black and Hispanic, which could be due to a myriad of compounding factors, such as a greater likelihood to live in densely populated urban areas where it is more difficult to practice social distancing. Data collected by an HRA will provide a jumping off point for creating programming and resources for environmental factors exacerbated by the virus:
- Food Scarcity: Families who may rely on free and reduced meal options through schools or other services may have trouble accessing those services now.
- Geographic Location: Southern states were the first in lifting shelter-in-place restrictions, and our ADR reveals that southern states experience higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, putting these populations at greater risk for COVID.
- Access and Use of Medical Services: There is a new barrier limiting access to non-urgent medical appointments. Many health practitioners have moved to telehealth services in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 throughout their practice, but telehealth may not be as readily available to certain segments of the population. Additionally, individuals are being cautioned against going to urgent care or the emergency room unless absolutely necessary which could be causing individuals to avoid getting care they need.
- Effects of Social Isolation: Social isolation and loneliness due to social distancing measures can have a profound effect of emotional and physical wellbeing. In our ADR, those who reported feelings of loneliness also had higher rates of obesity, diabetes, binge drinking—and were 18 times more likely to report feeling down, depressed, and hopeless.
Is your population experiencing any of the above? Having this information on hand—gathered through a reliable, and evidence-backed HRA—means that you could work toward keeping your population connected to the resources they need to get and stay in good health.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to do what we can to address chronic conditions and health disparities. And that starts with gathering the data we need to understand which individuals are at an increased risk of complications from the virus. Knowing the status of your population can help you to target interventions and resources based on your group’s biggest risk. For example, if a large portion of your population is obese you can provide resources and programming surrounding weight loss, healthy eating, and exercise as well as customize messaging emphasizing the importance of taking precautions against the virus due to their increased risk.
Whether your population is regionalized or spread across the country, now more than ever it’s important to understand how SDoHs can impact their health. If you’re ready to dive deeper into how an HRA can provide SDoH insights, download our latest Annual Data Review.