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Independence Blue Cross and Signify Health launch community-based organization network in Philadelphia

Investing in the social determinants of health can lead to positive returns on investment and creates fewer hospital readmissions.

Independence Blue Cross and Signify Health are leveraging their preexisting partnership to launch CommunityLink, a community-based organization network targeting the social determinants of health, in the Philadelphia region.

The program is designed to break the barriers between social and clinical care by helping people gain access to nonmedical health services such as food, housing, transportation and more, the companies said.

CommunityLink connects Independence's registered nurse health coaches, Signify Health's social care coordinators and local CBOs on its platform to coordinate for members. Beginning in 2021, healthcare providers will be able to use the platform to refer patients to nonmedical services in their community as well.

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The CommunityLink network can also monitor an individual's movement across different care settings to help keep people on track as they interact with multiple different social and clinical providers.

So far, the CommunityLink network includes Project HOME, the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance, Penn Asian Senior Services, the Philadelphia Food Trust, the Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Well Spouse and Greater Philadelphia YMCA. Independence and Signify Health plan to add more organization as the program develops.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This program builds upon earlier work by Independence and Signify Health in which the organizations send clinicians into the homes of Independence Medicare Advantage members to assess their overall health, facilitate chronic condition care management and provide diagnostic support.

Factors outside of a clinical framework, known as the social determinants of health, can account for up to 80% of an individual's health outcomes, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. These could include access to healthy food, clean and safe housing, reliable transportation and comprehensive education.

It is becoming more common for healthcare organizations to create programs targeting these social and economic components of health, not only because it benefits the person, but because it benefits the organization as well.

In fact, investing in the social determinants of health was found to have a positive return on investment and lead to fewer hospital readmissions, and thereby to cost savings, according to an article published by the American Journal of Managed Care.

THE LARGER TREND

Health leaders have understood the value of addressing the social determinants of health for some time now, however, that importance took on a new meaning during the pandemic.

Not long after the start of the COVID-19 public health crisis began in the U.S., studies began to show that minorities, and particularly Black individuals, were disproportionately impacted by the virus. One analysis found that Black people were being hospitalized with COVID-19 nearly four times more than white people.

Hospitals, health systems and health officials began calling for change, saying that systemic racism is also a public health crisis.

Organizations have started to take action, many through monetary donations. One example is UnitedHealthcare, which donated $12.3 million in June to community-based organizations across 21 states as a part of its Empowering Health commitment. Anthem also donated $24 million to nonprofit organizations across the country that focus on food insecurity, mental health, and housing and economic recovery.

ON THE RECORD

"Creating a more equitable health care system includes acknowledging that health not only happens in the doctor's office, but in our members' homes and communities. That is why we are so pleased to work with Signify Health on developing CommunityLink," said Daniel Hilferty, the Independence Blue Cross president and CEO. "We will be able to identify obstacles our members may be facing and offer solutions that are available to them right where they live through this new network."

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org