What are Social Determinants of Health?

Learn about Social Determinants of Health and how organizations like the PHDA can use data to combat community health disparities.

A clean bill of health is not confined within the walls of a doctor’s office or a hospital. In fact, being healthy and having a high quality of life can depend on several factors that are typically out of a patients’ control, including race, gender, or income level.

This is the concept behind social determinants of health (SDOH), a popular term in the health data community. SDOH represent the various lifestyle variables that might impact an individual’s health for better or for worse. The term became more popular over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic as researchers began largely considering population health.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SDOH can be grouped into five main categories:

  • Economic stability
  • Education access and quality
  • Healthcare access and quality
  • Neighborhood and built environment
  • Social and community context

Identifying SDOH in certain patient communities – or in particular patient cases – can result in minimized disparities in care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines several tools and data resources that could help better inform researchers and encourage them to consider SDOH within their studies. Here are a few examples:

Data is a huge piece of the SDOH puzzle, allowing researchers and physicians to read between the lines and improve the overall health of the communities they serve. The Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance is dedicated to improving the quality of human health through data through the various projects it supports. Some of these projects solve problems directly relating to SDOH, such as Naima Health/MyHealthPregnancy, a company and app dedicated to identifying preventable pregnancy risks, and eMCARE, an app-based messaging system that encourages young adults to receive routine primary care.

Explore the PHDA website to learn how it is using SDOH to contribute to the future of healthcare.