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Kaiser Permanente: Survey: Housing, Food, Isolation Major Barriers to Health

Originally posted on KasierPermanente

One-third of Americans are grappling with stress tied to meeting their basic human needs such as stable housing, adequate food, and reliable transportation, according to the results of a new national survey from Kaiser Permanente. The survey, Social Needs in America, also found that Americans overwhelmingly want health care providers to be involved in identifying and addressing these non-medical social needs.

These latest survey findings reveal that Americans are experiencing unmet social needs at significant rates. In fact, 68% of Americans surveyed reported they experienced at least one unmet social need in the past year. More than a quarter of those surveyed said that an unmet social need was a barrier to health, with 21% prioritizing paying for food or rent overseeing a doctor or getting medication.

The national survey asked people about barriers they face in meeting social needs, how those barriers prevent them from accessing necessary health care, and how they want their doctors, nurses, and other care providers to help bridge those gaps.

“At Kaiser Permanente we think holistically about health, which includes medical care and other factors like access to food, transportation, and housing,” said Kaiser Permanente chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson. “By helping close the gap on social needs, we have an opportunity to advance the health of communities across the country and safeguard everyone’s right to thrive.”

Among the survey’s topline findings:

  • Americans view social needs as equally important to their health as medical care, with 89% of respondents saying safe and stable housing is very or extremely important to health and 80% saying reliable transportation is very or extremely important.
  • Those experiencing unmet social needs were twice as likely to rate their health as fair or poor compared to those who did not. A third of respondents reported experiencing stress related to social needs, and 28% of respondents reported that a social need was a barrier to care in the last year. In addition, 39% frequently or occasionally experience stress over accessing food or balanced meals and 35% experience stress over housing.
  • The vast majority of Americans want their medical providers to ask about social needs, with 97% of respondents saying their providers should ask about social needs during medical visits. Only 10% said they would feel nervous or annoyed by such questions.
  • Social needs are predictors of physical and mental health. Survey respondents who reported experiencing an unmet social need in the past year were more than twice as likely to rate their health as fair or poor (16%) compared to those who did not experience an unmet social need (6%).

Expanded survey results can be found here.

Thrive Local launches, offers vital connection to community resources

Along with releasing the survey results, Kaiser Permanente is also announcing the first location of its Thrive Local social needs resources network in its Northwest Region, which includes Oregon and southwest Washington State. Medical providers there are working to incorporate the sophisticated tool into the organization’s electronic health records system to connect people with social resources to meet their specific needs.

Kaiser Permanente is on the forefront of addressing social needs for its members. Prior to the Thrive Local launch, a Kaiser Permanente member in Vancouver, Washington, described how her physician connected her with housing resources after discovering she was sleeping in her truck.


“We are eager to implement this network into our care delivery system because we know closing social care gaps will improve health outcomes,” said Northwest Permanente CEO Imelda Dacones, MD. “Social determinants of health, or the economic and social conditions that influence health, drive most health outcomes. To address and create total health, we, as physicians, must have systems and networks that address our patients’ social needs.”

“We must ensure individuals have access to the health and social services they need to be well,” said Bechara Choucair, MD, chief community health officer at Kaiser Permanente. “When we ask our members if they’ve had to skip a meal lately, if they can afford their medications, or if they have reliable transportation, we know the answers to those questions can tell us as much about their future health as their blood pressure tells us. When we can prevent negative health outcomes with access to social services, we can make our communities healthier for the 68 million people living there.”

“We are intimately familiar with the types of challenges people are struggling with here in the Northwest, and we are eager to engage the appropriate community resources to address those specific needs,” said Ruth Williams-Brinkley, regional president for Kaiser Permanente in the Northwest. “With Thrive Local, we are excited to have a powerful tool to improve the well-being not only of our members, but of entire communities as well.”

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