The Missing Ingredient in Your Hospital’s Social Determinants Initiative

The Missing Ingredient in Your Hospital’s Social Determinants Initiative

By Matt Schossberg

Telling a complete patient story requires capturing the social determinants that influence overall health. Evidence suggests that focusing on “upstream” interventions outside of traditional clinical care—such as housing, neighborhood conditions, and increased socioeconomic status—can lead to overall improvements in health and reduce health disparities and inequities.

The challenge for health systems is capturing and structuring information from sources beyond traditional health information systems. According to a recent AHIMA survey, 73 percent of provider organizations do not have a formal structure to address data governance for social determinants of health (SDOH).

As the role of SDOH grows larger in health systems’ patient and population health initiatives, data governance will be essential to achieving success.

Data Governance is Key

AHIMA believes that SDOH data must be collected, accessed, managed, and shared in a culturally respectful way to support whole-person healthcare. And that journey begins with you—the health information professional.

Providers are evaluating high-impact interventions that address the non-medical root causes of health issues in both individuals and populations. However, the most significant barrier to the mainstream utilization of SDOH is data—how to acquire it, how to analyze it, and how to make it actionable.

Data governance principles—established by the HIM team—can be leveraged to improve the capture, management, and use of SDOH.

Knowledge You Can Apply

AHIMA’s Social Determinants of Health: Improving Capture and Use by Applying Data Governance Strategies white paper explores the strategies and best practices forward-thinking healthcare organizations use to improve the data governance underlying SDOH initiatives, including:

  • Creating a governance committee of key hospital and community stakeholders
  • Distinguishing between individual-level and community-level SDOH
  • Evaluating the deployment of HL7 FHIR-based APIs to support upstream care
  • Making SDOH data actionable with real-time documentation alerts

The more a health system understands how to infuse data into an SDOH initiative, the better the outcomes realized by the organization. That’s exactly what this white paper is for.

Take a Deeper Dive

In addition to the white paper, we have curated content and resources to help you, your team, and key collaborators optimize social determinants of health data.

  • Read: Visit our SDOH resource page, featuring dozens of articles from noted experts. Read more.
  • Learn: Invest in the webinar Advancing the Integrity of Social Determinants of Health Data Through Collaboration. Learn more.
  • Network: Join AHIMA Access to discuss the challenges and opportunities you face with SDOH. Sign up.
  • Advocate: Read AHIMA’s policy statement on SDOH, then urge your legislators to act to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequities. Get involved.


Matt Schlossberg ( is an editor at AHIMA.

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