From the Urban Institute: What Would it Take to Reduce Inequities in Healthy Life Expectancy?

By Austin Frakt

The Urban Institute recently published a report titled “What Would it Take to Reduce Inequities in Healthy Life Expectancy?” Its purpose is to articulate strategies to boost the effectiveness of the health system in addressing health-related social needs to narrow health inequities and areas of research that would help it do so. But it also includes lots of examples of what health organizations and payers are already doing to address social needs.

Areas where more information is needed, according to the report, include those pertaining to the incidence of social needs (like hunger, housing instability, and social isolation) and the health-related payoffs in addressing them. These are pretty fundamental issues. If we don’t know the incidence of social needs or what addressing them would do for health, we don’t know very much, do we?

Yet, the report includes some useful information. Here’s what caught my eye:

  • A nice summary of the use of social needs screening tools in various systems (pages 5-8)
  • Examples of social needs referral practices (pages 8-12)
  • A discussion of linked administrative data and encouragement for more (various pages, including 31). I think this is crucial infrastructure that needs to be build and tracked. States need to be encouraged to invest in it and researchers need to be incentivized to use it.
  • A reference to the Social Interventions Research and Evaluation Network, “which maintains an evidence library of health care–based interventions that address patients’ social needs” and about which I was unaware.