More on Population Health

Family support services top most requested social determinants of health need

Family support services, good access and transportation are some of the most-needed social services to address SDOH.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Social determinants of health -- the conditions in which people live, learn, work and play – affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. New data released today by WellCare Health Plans adds to the growing body of research by examining the social service needs in highest demand across the U.S. in the first half of 2019.

WellCare reviewed more than 106,000 social service referrals made through the company's Community Connections program, including its Community Connections Help Line, a toll-free phone line open to the general public that refers individuals and caregivers in need to a database of more than 300,000 social services in local communities across the country.

In the first half of 2019, the analysis found the top-requested referrals, representing those of greatest need, were made for family support services (20%), including prenatal and parenting education, child care and child welfare-related services; followed by food access (16%); transportation (16%); utilities assistance (11%); medication assistance (7%); and housing (6%).

HIMSS20 Digital

Learn on-demand, earn credit, find products and solutions. Get Started >>


The analysis not only reveals the social services in highest demand, but also the individuals most in need of social services thus far in 2019. According to the data, one in five referrals to social services were for children under age 18, with 12% specifically for children 10 or younger. One-in-four referrals were for people age 65 or older.

Beyond the demographics, the analysis examines the association between those in need of social services and rates of chronic disease, such as asthma, diabetes, COPD, depression and substance abuse.

Specifically, those with social service needs were found to be managing roughly four chronic health conditions, including at least one behavioral health condition -- more than twice the rate of people without social service needs. The rates of chronic disease among women with social service needs were more than twice as high as the rates of men in similar situations.

Among children, the chronic disease rates among those with social service needs as compared to those without needs was most striking in various behavioral and emotional health categories. Rates of depression and bipolar disorder were more than two-fold and more than four-fold higher, respectively, among children with social service needs as compared to those without. Severe mental illness in children with social service needs was found to be as high as six times the rate seen among children without social service needs.


Recent studies point to the value in addressing social determinants of health. A study of nearly 20,000 people in the American Journal of Managed Care concluded that people with a social service need, such as lack of housing or food, were significantly more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. According to NEJM Catalyst, hospital readmissions cost more than $40 billion each year.

Also, research published in Population Health Management by WellCare and the University of South Florida College of Public Health found healthcare spending is substantially reduced when people are successfully connected to social services that address social determinants of health, such as secure housing, medical transportation, healthy food programs, and utility and financial assistance.

Focus on Social Determinants of Health

In September, Healthcare Finance News, Healthcare IT News and MobiHealthNews will take a look at the SDOH and how varied health systems, IT companies, Congress and others are addressing it.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: