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Why SDOH Matter for an Orthopaedic Practice

Social determinants of health (SDOH) have garnered increased attention in recent years, but do they matter in orthopaedics? Research suggests SDOH have direct, lasting impacts on orthopaedic patient outcomes. Furthermore, as value-based care marches across the country, more and more specialties will be required to consider the impact they can make on SDOH for reporting purposes. Convenient strategies can be implemented right now in order to get ahead of the curve. We’ve put them together so you can increase patient satisfaction both in the office and in the community.

Effects of SDOH on Orthopaedic Patients

A research review conducted in 2012 found significant associations between radiographic and symptomatic knee OA and educational attainment across orthopaedic studies. They also found several studies suggesting that social context may contribute to variations in the utilization of knee and hip replacements, and strong, consistent evidence of a disproportionate burden of risk to suboptimal unhealthy environmental conditions for those with low access to supplemental education services.

Why Does It Matter in Orthopaedics?

With governmental overhauls in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement that have been passed in recent years, there has been a noticeable shift to reimbursement based on patient outcomes and satisfaction. Currently, if SDOH information is collected in the practice, it’s most likely stored in the EHR system, although there is no overarching standard for SDOH data collection to date.

For example, Exscribe EHR collects data on tobacco use, alcohol use, and occupational and relationship status, providing a snapshot of the social context of a patient’s complaint. If outcomes are swiftly becoming the key to reimbursement, orthopaedic practices need to translate this information into actions beginning today. Below, you can find 3 key areas to address right now:

3 Strategies to Address SDOH in Your Practice

1. Communication

Health literacy varies greatly from patient to patient, but is a necessary component for patient follow through on their treatments. This is especially important in orthopaedics, where many recovery plans include longer forms of treatment such as PT. Providing regular communication training to physicians through online webinars or other educational tools can be especially helpful. Advanced communication skills can clarify care instructions while reducing stress and anxiety for the patient. Avoiding medical jargon and creating an environment of patience and respect are always a best practice.

2. Transportation

Missed appointments are frustrating for practice administrators, but some patients might be without a reliable form of transportation to the office. Medicaid offers covered, non-emergency travel to patients who qualify. Additionally, the creation of ridesharing apps could be available in your area to help patients get to appointments on demand. Consider including a question on your patient history form about transportation to appointments as a signal the patient might need a resource. Decreasing your no show rate could be as simple as creating a flyer to increase awareness.

3. Support Organizations

Social support is critical to addressing caregiver and patient health and recovery. Many communities have existing resources meant to support the psychological, emotional, and physical needs of caregivers and patients. Researching the programs available in your local area to address addiction, food insecurity, and emotional wellbeing can provide staff with a valuable resource list from which to refer patients when red flags pop up on their social history questions, increasing patient trust and further cementing your practice’s reputation as a SDOH leader in the community.