Karin VanZant Examines Pillars of Health and Social Needs

Healthcare providers sometimes fail to consider the other aspects of a patient's life that could be affecting physical health and wellness, said Karin VanZant, executive director of Life Services at CareSource.

Transcript (slightly modified)
How do healthcare organizations fail to understand the unmet social needs of their patients?
One of the things that I believe about healthcare organizations and as they really get to engage with their patients and understand them as whole people, is the questions that they ask them. I think that a lot of clinicians have been trained to only focus on physical or behavioral health aspects and forget that there's this entire part of a person's life that impacts overall physical health and wellness.

So one of the things that we're trying to encourage at CareSource is, through training with our health providers, to ask different questions or even just to tweak the questions that they are asking just a little bit so they can get to know their members' whole lives, not just the lives that they've been used to dealing with in the clinical settings.

What are the 5 pillars of health as defined by CareSource and what is the importance of having access to them?
At CareSource, we've defined our 5 pillars as being, [first] economic stability: we do believe that getting a paycheck is almost as important as getting the right prescription. And what our members have told us it that the fires that are burning hottest in their lives—most of them being  Medicaid recipients—are around financial needs. Not having enough resources to meet their basic needs.

The second pillar is food access. Again, if you're hungry, you're not really going to be able to think or focus or plan.

The next pillar is housing. If you live in housing that's literally falling down around you that isn't affordable—taking more than 30% of your overall income—or has high crime or safety concerns, then health and wellness is not going to be something that you're going to have in your life.

Then we look at education, both at the adult level and at the child level. That needs to be a multi-generational approach. As mom and dad are increasing their skills so that they have financial stability and opportunities, the kids start to see how important education is in a long-term strategy to keep them out of poverty.

And the last one, which is one that really spans cradle to grave, is social connectedness. And what I have found in working with low-income populations and even through my own social networks in the middle class, is that we tend to be a very isolated people. We tend to be very private, we don't necessarily ask for help very well. And as we really think about overall health and wellness we were really not meant to be individuals, we were meant to be connected with other people. So there needs to be some kind of a response to break down the walls of isolation and allow people to connect with peers, with neighbors, and with extended family.
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