Social Determinants of Health Could Be Used To Guide Benefit Offerings

If 2020 was the year we stayed home, 2021 was the year we all tried to figure out how and when to return to work. Among the myriad changes businesses are weathering, navigating the benefits open enrollment season is presenting quite an issue as companies grapple with what perks their employees want most in this new world. 

One approach several businesses are piloting is that of looking at Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). Long a buzzword in the public health arena, SDOH refers to the environmental conditions that impact a person’s quality of life and health outcomes. For example, public health officials and city planners will analyze how to improve access to grocery stores in inner cities as a way to eliminate so-called food desserts (whereby residents don’t have consistent access to fresh fruit and vegetables) while also reducing obesity and the prevalence of diabetes among city residents. 

While it’s not up to the HR professional to do a deep dive on each employee’s socio-economic picture, businesses can benefit from this concept by examining their physical and social environments and refining their healthcare packages to best meet the needs of their workforce. Read on below to determine how SODH’s can inform your benefits choices. 

Keep it remote

With more employees slated to continue working from home, workers are expected to continue to lean into all things virtual, particularly health care options. With this in mind, plan to continue or consider adding telemedicine options to your benefits offerings. Studies have shown that this model of providing care is a safe, effective, and convenient option for care and one that your employees are sure to appreciate as their world continues to slowly open.  

Expand your limits

In previous years, many benefits packages could save you big bucks if you agreed to see a provider in-network. In the before times, this often meant picking a big hospital or health system close to the office and letting their providers handle the bulk of the health care heavy lifting. However, during Covid, many employees opted to leave big cities or crowded states, meaning that your “shop local” health plan is sure to lose its luster! Use the open enrollment period to look at benefits packages that cast a wider geographical net and can safely provide care to your workers, regardless of their physical location. 

Mental health break

For many folks, the past year of quarantine has been incredibly isolating and mentally taxing. However, one benefit of the pandemic has been that it gave us a real opportunity to test drive how to make mental and behavioral health support programming accessible to all through telemedicine, over-the-phone therapy, and myriad other mental wellness aps. Capitalize on this momentum by opting for more accessible counseling options and mental healthcare programming when you make your benefits selections. 

Get social

In an effort to counteract the isolation and desperation, many of us felt during the pandemic, social support programs are emerging as a hot trend in health benefits. These program offerings seek to offer education and support in a group setting, whether in person or virtually, on topics such as nutrition, weight loss, smoking cessation, and other lifestyle changes that can pay off with huge health dividends. Other social support offerings that may also be of interest include copay coupons, which are particularly beneficial if you have a large swath of workers taking medicines for chronic conditions, as well as programs that provide medical transportation or otherwise seek to improve access to medical services.  The question now becomes, how do we determine the SDOHs impacting our workforce? As we touched on above, it isn’t necessary to do a deep dive on your employee’s socioeconomic standing or perhaps worse, attempt to thumb through their medical files to figure out what ails them. Rather, you can start by looking closely at your geographic area and determining what types of health challenges they face. Based on your findings, you could survey your employees about what types of benefits they believe would have the most impact on their community and then seek to identify ways to implement such programming in a way that will lead to meaningful change.