Social Determinants of Health and Health Outcomes

Social barriers to accessing health care negatively impact health outcomes for low-income families contributing to the rise of health care costs in America (Lyons-Taylor, 2014).  According to the University of Wisconsin Public Health Institute (UWPHI; 2013), working in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF; 2012), four health factors influence health outcomes (and the assessment of population health) as measured by morbidity (quality of life) and mortality (length of life). According to UWPHI (2012), the four factors include health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.

Social factors influencing health outcomes play a very important role in influencing health outcomes and must be considered within the population health equation. Since population health focuses on determining the health outcomes of a group of people, the social factors that influence their mortality and morbidity requires attention. In fact, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2011), 60 percent of social considerations contribute to premature death when left unmet. While the public health system offers health care to the general public, low-income and disadvantaged populations face greater personal and financial challenges to accessing health care options, including preventive measures (Gulliford, et al., 2002)

Through a recent study, The CommUnity Commitment and WellCare determined that there is a positive correlation between available social safety net services within a given county and increased access to care.  This is an important step in quantifying the impact of removing social barriers to accessing health care and improved health outcomes. The important question being asked is “does increased access lead to improved health outcomes?” If we address social barriers by sustaining the social safety net, does that increase access to care and does that increased access truly have a positive impact on health outcomes? The next step in my analysis is to determine if a referral to a social service is enough to remove the barrier.  If not, do we need to privatize the social safety net to ensure access and utilization in order to affect access to health care.  And, from there, we can answer the underlying question of the link between access and health outcomes.


Gulliford, M., Figueroa-Munoz, J., Myfanwy, M., Hughes, D., GIbson, B., Beech, R., et al. (2002). What does ‘access to health care’ mean? Journal of Health Service Research & Policy, 7 (3), 186-188.

Healthy People 2020. (2014). Healthy People 2020. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from Healthy People:

Lyons-Taylor, P. (2014). HealthConnections: Determining the impact of removing social barriers to accessing healthcare among low-income and disadvantaged families. Walden University, Public Health. Minneapolis: Walden University.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2011). Health Care’s Blind Side. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Washington: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2012). Overcoming obstacles to health. . Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

University of Wisconsin Public Health Institute. (2013, January). County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. Retrieved January 11, 2014, from Rankings Background: background

University of Wisconsin, Public Health Institute. (2012, January 1). County Health Rankings and Roadmaps – Our Approach. Retrieved January 7, 2014, from County Health Rankings:


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