PCMS Establishes Workgroup to Help Physicians Address Social Determinants of Health

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As part of its ongoing mission to promote the successful practice of medicine and the well-being of the public, on Tuesday, February 7 the Pierce County Medical Society convened the inaugural meeting of the PCMS Social Determinants of Health Workgroup.  This workgroup will explore the best methods to provide continuing education to the physician community of Pierce County about the importance of social determinants such as housing, nutritious food, economic opportunity, and transportation on the overall health outcomes for patients.  It will also seek to devise a menu of choices based on best practice for physicians to utilize to successfully address social determinants with their patients in a manner that is least disruptive to current workflow and that is least burdensome during a time of so many concurrent changes to the payment and care delivery systems. 

Part of those changes include a movement away from fee-for-service reimbursement toward a system based on payment for value and quality where the overall health of the patient is paramount with the goals of improving quality and patient satisfaction, reducing cost, and raising the health levels of the entire population.  As these factors increasingly become part of the standard of care and as population health, public health, and patient health all merge together, it will be vital for independent physicians and physicians employed by health systems to be engaged participants working to reduce inequity and improve the social determinants of health for their patients.  By having the medical community take a leadership role in this area, overall outcomes can be improved, quality and reimbursement metrics can be successfully met, and health inequities can be reduced. 

The PCMS Social Determinants of Health Workgroup is co-chaired by PCMS Executive Director Bruce Ehrle and PCMS Board Member Jared Capouya, MD who serves as the quality director at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, part of the MultiCare health system.  Other workgroup members include senior leaders from CHI Franciscan, Community Health Care, Northwest Physicians Network, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, as well as additional participants from the MultiCare system including Tacoma Family Medicine. 

Recent demographic analysis has discovered as much as a ten-year life expectancy difference between neighborhoods in Pierce County.  This inequity is based largely on challenges for many citizens of the county with regard to social determinants of health which have been demonstrated to impact over half of the overall outcome for patients while what transpires in the clinical setting, even with the most diligent high quality standards of care, contribute about 20-25% toward overall outcomes.  To reduce these inequities and to raise the overall health level of the population, physicians will increasingly be looked to for partnership and leadership.

Last summer PCMS issued tools for physicians to utilize to screen patients for challenges in social determinants of health and then refer them for assistance if they demonstrated a need for help in one or more areas.  Those tools are attached.  The Workgroup will examine the most effective ways to utilize those tools or other evolutionary tools to help physicians in all settings implement work in this growing role for providers so that they may achieve the highest levels of success in an era when medicine is being transformed by new payment and care delivery models. 

This shared commitment to coordinate efforts on this endeavor between Workgroup participants and other providers as well as the county’s ACH puts Pierce County on the cutting edge of this innovative approach to care that has the prospect of making a positive long term contribution toward improved quality and satisfaction, reduced cost, improved population health, and practice success for physicians and all providers in our community.