Lewis JH, Whelihan K, Navarro I, Boyle KR, SDH Card Study Implementation Team. Community health center provider ability to identify, treat and account for the social determinants of health: a card study. BMC Fam Pract. 2016 Aug 27;17(1):121. doi: 10.1186/s12875-016-0526-8

BACKGROUND: The social determinants of health (SDH) are conditions that shape the overall health of an individual on a continuous basis. As momentum for addressing social factors in primary care settings grows, provider ability to identify, treat and assess these factors remains unknown. Community health centers care for over 20-million of America's highest risk populations. This study at three centers evaluates provider ability to identify, treat and code for the SDH.

METHODS: Investigators utilized a pre-study survey and a card study design to obtain evidence from the point of care. The survey assessed providers' perceptions of the SDH and their ability to address them. Then providers filled out one anonymous card per patient on four assigned days over a 4-week period, documenting social factors observed during encounters. The cards allowed providers to indicate if they were able to: provide counseling or other interventions, enter a diagnosis code and enter a billing code for identified factors.

RESULTS: The results of the survey indicate providers were familiar with the SDH and were comfortable identifying social factors at the point of care. A total of 747 cards were completed. 1584 factors were identified and 31 % were reported as having a service provided. However, only 1.2 % of factors were associated with a billing code and 6.8 % received a diagnosis code.

CONCLUSIONS: An obvious discrepancy exists between the number of identifiable social factors, provider ability to address them and documentation with billing and diagnosis codes. This disparity could be related to provider inability to code for social factors and bill for related time and services. Health care organizations should seek to implement procedures to document and monitor social factors and actions taken to address them. Results of this study suggest simple methods of identification may be sufficient. The addition of searchable codes and reimbursements may improve the way social factors are addressed for individuals and populations.

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