There are many elements that determine our health: genetics, environment, and social factors all contribute in some way. More focus is now being placed on the social determinants that play a role in the health status of both individuals and communities. Education access, economic opportunities or hindrances, and a host of other factors all contribute to health outcomes. According to the World Health Organization, the social determinants are the circumstances individuals are born into, including the health system, and these have a large impact on health inequities. On April 23, Johns Hopkins is holding its second symposium on the social determinants of health, bringing together a range of experts to discuss and brainstorm solutions to this challenge.
Partnerships between physicians and lawyers have started mitigating some of the social determinants of health. Community health centers partner with legal aid organizations to provide free legal services to patients. Physicians have been doubtful about lawyers improving their patients’ circumstances. But a physician at a clinic in Arkansas has found that “the medical-legal partnership has helped keep his patients in school, assisted families in re-establishing Medicaid eligibility, kept kids out of foster care, helped homeless families find housing, and much more.” Some of the successful medical-legal partnerships across the country are described in a recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
To better serve their future patients, medical students should be taught about the social determinants of health. Some medical schools are taking a proactive role in teaching students about the impact of social determinants on patients’ health, as reported by the AAMC in a September 2012 report.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting