Researchers use EHR system to screen social determinants of health

Adopting an electronic health record (EHR) system to collect, analyze and make referrals about social determinants of health (SDH) for patients could be useful for community health centers, according to a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

For the study, researchers implemented an EHR-based system that documented and summarized SDH results in three community health centers, so they could asses how well the centers adopted the system.

“Numerous healthcare systems are exploring how to incorporate social needs documentation and intervention into routine care,” the study said. “Such documentation is especially relevant to community health centers, whose vulnerable patients are likely to experience social and economic risks associated with poor health. Community health centers’ past efforts to integrate social and medical needs were typically ad hoc and rarely documented in EHRs.”

According to the result, the system was able to document a potential SDH in 97 to 99 percent of screened patients. It was also able to make an SDH-related referral for 19 percent of those patients. However, only 15 to 21 percent of patients with a documented SDH said they wanted help to improve their health.

“Our results suggest that SDH documentation in EHRs is feasible; however, for the benefits of systematic EHR-based, SDH documentation to be realized, barriers to adoption of EHR tools must be addressed. Results may be informative to (community health centers) and other primary care providers seeking to implement SDH-related efforts, especially if SDH documentation becomes required or associated with financial incentives,” the study concluded.

“The systematic EHR documentation and management of SDH needs could impact (community health center) patient health, but optimizing such EHR tools and integrating them smoothly into clinic workflows will require addressing substantial knowledge gaps.”