As screening for social determinants of health in clinical settings "moves from the margins to the mainstream," research has focused on how to efficiently identify and address social needs in practice. An article in the May/June issue of FPM by Drs. David O'Gurek and Carla Henke provided a suite of practical approaches, including tools, workflow, and coding and payment considerations. Dr. Sebastian Tong and colleagues reported the experiences of primary care clinicians screening for social needs in 12 northern Virginia practices in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Knowledge of a social need changed care delivery in 23% of patients and improved communication in 53%, but clinicians often felt ill-equipped to help patients with identified needs or connect them to appropriate services.
Help is on the way. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recently launched an interactive online tool, the Neighborhood Navigator, to make it easier for family physicians to connect patients with community organizations and social services. This tool complements other resources in the AAFP's EveryONE Project to support patients' health outside of the office that Dr. Jennifer Middleton discussed in a previous Community Blog post.
In the August 1 issue of American Family Physician, Dr. Shivajirao Prakash Patil and colleagues review the problem of food insecurity, defined as "limited availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food or the inability to acquire these foods in socially acceptable ways," which affected an estimated 12% of American households in 2016. According to the authors, food insecurity (FI) has a cyclical relationship with chronic disease, constraining dietary options in ways that increase the risk for development and progression of diseases in children and adults. They recommend that family medicine practices follow the SEARCH mnemonic and utilize food security resources and food assistance programs in appropriate patients:
S (Screen) - "An affirmative response to either of the following statements can identify FI with 97% sensitivity and 83% specificity: (1) Within the past 12 months we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more, and (2) Within the past 12 months the food we bought just didn't last, and we didn't have money to get more."
E (Educate) - "Educate patients at risk of FI about appropriate coping strategies. Although some individuals with limited resources manage without major disruptions to food intake, many eat less or eat less healthy foods to get by."
A (Adjust) - "Adjust the patient's medication if it should be taken with food. Prescribe medications that minimize the likelihood of hypoglycemia for patients with FI who have diabetes."
C (Connect) - "Connect patients with assistance programs and encourage patients with FI to use food banks."
H (Help) - "Help other health care professionals recognize that poor health and FI often exacerbate one another."
Family physicians can also choose to advocate to improve the quality and quantity of food resource programs available in their communities and across the nation.