Faculty Member

Americans’ poor health and high health care costs largely stem from social, environmental, and behavioral factors that adversely impact health. Yet, health care providers traditionally have neglected the social determinants of health, focusing instead on medically treating patients’ symptoms. As a result, addressing the social determinants of health has primarily been the domain of government and community groups. Unfortunately, the efforts of the public health and social services sectors are stymied by chronic underfunding, a situation unlikely to change in the current political environment. This article identifies a potential solution to this problem: recent health care reforms that encourage health care providers to move beyond traditional medicine and give greater attention to the social determinants of poor health. This promising development already has improved the health of many individuals. However, this trend represents an incomplete solution to the problem at hand, as providers lack the incentives and capacity to independently address many of the root causes of poor health. Effecting far-reaching changes in the social determinants of health instead will require providers to join forces with other sectors across a broad range of initiatives designed to improve the population’s health.