What you need to know about the five social determinants of health

Explore the unique factors that affect your health outcomes and risks to ensure your primary care provider is taking them into account 

In the United States, studies have estimated that social determinants of health affect up to 50% of county-level variation in health outcomes, which is a significant amount when compared to the fact that clinical care only impacts about 20% of variation. [1]

Taking the time to learn about the social determinants of health and how they can impact your health, functioning, and quality of life outcomes and risks can be extremely valuable to you as a patient in a healthcare setting.

Keep reading to learn what you need to know about the five social determinants of health.

What are social determinants of health?

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the conditions of the places where people are born, grow, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect their health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. [2,3]

Some real-world examples of SDOH include:

  • Income level
  • Educational and employment opportunities
  • Gender inequity 
  • Racial segregation
  • Availability of nutritious foods and transportation 
  • Access to safe drinking water and clean air
  • Community inclusivity and recreational opportunities [4]

It’s important for healthcare organizations and those in sectors such as education, transportation, and housing to address SDOH to improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities for people across the U.S. [2,3]

What are the five social determinants of health?

SDOH are defined within the following five categories:

  • Education Access and Quality looks at how education connects to health and well-being with a focus on issues like graduating from high school and opportunities to pursue higher education. For example, children who live in areas with quality K-12 educational systems have higher odds of going to college, and in turn developing a higher socioeconomic status, which is linked to better health outcomes. [4] 
  • Social and Community Context is the connection between your health and where you live, work, and play. Examples include your social support network of friends and family, workplace conditions, and community incarceration rates. [4] 
  • Health Care Access and Quality refers to factors such as your ability to establish a relationship with a high-quality primary care provider (PCP), get screenings for conditions such as colorectal and breast cancers, or access a quality hospital as needed. For example, if you don’t have reliable transportation or no insurance, you’ll be more likely to not receive preventive treatment and withstand worse health outcomes. [4] 
  • Neighborhood and Built Environment looks at how your housing, neighborhood, environment, and health intertwine. It includes aspects such as quality of housing, access to transportation, air and water quality, and local crime rates. [4]
  • Economic Stability is how your financial status (income, cost of living, etc.) and your health are connected. It includes poverty, employment, housing stability, and food security. For example, if you’re living in a low-income household, every dollar spent is a major decision and you’re required to make impossible choices like going to the doctor with a copay versus buying food for your family that directly affects your health. [4]

Social determinants of health are defined within five different categories

How are the social determinants of health used?

The intention in identifying SDOH is for private organizations and government entities to work together to take action to improve the conditions in people’s environments that are negatively affecting their quality of life and health outcomes. [2,4]

Accurately utilizing SDOH are meant to help resolve health inequities and improve culturally competent health care, so that our society as a whole is healthier and happier. [2,4] 

Physicians are meant to utilize SDOH to more accurately address the lifestyle factors and unmet needs of their patients that are negatively affecting their health and well-being. Utilizing these determinants are meant to encourage physicians to take a closer look at the background and living conditions of their patients to uncover and address underlying factors that may influence their health outcomes. [5]

For example, when a nurse health coach or nutritionist is making a meal plan for a patient and they are taking SDOH under consideration, they would take into account any financial limitations, inaccessibility to certain food groups, and abstinence from specific foods due to religious or cultural preferences when creating the meal plan, so that their patient is as likely as possible to utilize their unique, functional meal plan. 

How can patients find providers who take their social determinants into account? 

It’s vital to find a primary care provider or specialist who will address your health issues while factoring in your unique social determinants, but competent care like this can be challenging to find since it’s not currently something that can simply be Googled. [4]

The best way to find the right provider for you is to start by advocating for yourself and asking questions of healthcare organizations. For example, a person in the LGBTQ+ community may want to ask if their doctor’s office has any physicians that have a background in working with LGBTQ+ patients or a person who speaks Spanish may want to ask if their doctor’s office has any physicians that also speak Spanish. You have to find a provider that you feel comfortable communicating with and that you feel listens to you and understands you for the unique patient that you are. [4]

You can also try asking friends, family, and neighbors from your church or other community organizations who they see for their primary care or specialist needs to find more culturally competent care. [4]

How does WeCare tlc address social determinants of health? 

At WeCare tlc, we are committed to not only clinically treating our patients, but also tackling the issues of health equity and social determinants of health to ensure their compliance and engagement. By utilizing this approach that takes whole person care to another level, our clinical teams are provided with the knowledge of how to achieve and maintain optimal health and wellness for their patients.

We also understand that there’s only so much that we can ask of our primary care providers, which is why we are committed to connecting our patients with external community-based resources and programs that provide them with the additional support they need to improve their overall health and well-being.  

The way in which we care for our patients not only benefits them individually, but the companies for which they work for—our clients. By improving compliance and engagement for your health plan members, your overall healthcare spend will only further decrease. 

Interested in learning more about how we can join forces and create a healthier workforce for your company? Get in touch with us today to learn more. 


1: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services | Addressing Social Determinants of Health: Examples of Successful Evidence-Based Strategies and Current Federal Efforts

2: Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion | Social Determinants of Health

3: KFF | Beyond Health Care: The Role of Social Determinants in Promoting Health and Health Equity

4: Health | There Are 5 Social Determinants of Health—Here’s What That Means, and How They Influence Your Care

5: American Medical Association | What are social determinants of health?