How Important Should Social Determinants Be to Locums?

A recent survey conducted by Merritt Hawkins revealed some interesting data regarding the state of American healthcare and how physicians approach it. Among the plethora of data are numbers that show a greater awareness of social determinants and their effect on outcomes. Simply put, doctors say that their patients experience certain social determinants that play a role in overall health.

Knowing this, how important should social determinants be to locums? Due to the nature of their work, locums don’t tend to develop long-term relationships with their patients. That means they may be unaware of certain social issues that might affect patient health. Should that change? Is it important for locums to know more about patient home life, family relationships, etc. in order to provide better care?

More About the Survey

The referenced survey is a biannual survey conducted among thousands of physicians. This latest iteration surveyed more than 9,000 doctors practicing in a variety of settings around the country. There was a special emphasis placed on social determinants like food insecurity and affordable housing this time around.

Some 88% of the respondents did acknowledge that at least some of their patients are negatively impacted by social issues. More than half said that “many or all of their patients have such an impediment.” That’s a pretty significant statistic. If there are that many patients suffering from legitimate social issues that could be impacting their health, perhaps doctors need to work with other professionals to improve patient health by also improving the social determinants.

For the locum, the potential for social determinants to impact patient care is especially intriguing. Changing the current paradigm would mean finding some way to keep locum doctors up to speed on patients they do not personally know. Perhaps that might mean changes to the way records are kept. It might mean changes to the way reception and nursing staff interview patients at the start of a visit.

Why It Matters

Let us assume that social determinants like affordable housing and food security do indeed impact patient help. Why is this important? Because improving patient outcomes may not be something we can confine only to what happens in the doctor’s waiting room. Perhaps we need to also address what happens outside the clinic, hospital, and private practice office.

This matters to locum doctors inasmuch as they are at a decided disadvantage. Without having the opportunity to really get to know their patients, they have no way of knowing which social determinants might be affecting each person and family they interact with. They would need some way of understanding social determinants in order to provide the best possible care.

The Doctor’s Job Is Changing

The mere fact that nearly 90% of America’s doctors acknowledge social determinants as having an influence on patient health shows that the doctor’s job is changing. Your average primary care physician can no longer take care of patients in the best possible way without getting beyond things like aches, pains, and vaccinations. Doctors now have to be concerned about social issues as well.

So yes, locum doctors should be concerned about those same social determinants. However, doctors of all stripes must also be willing to acknowledge that they are not social workers, patient advocates, or magicians. The best they can do is provide medical care in concert with other professionals and those agencies tasked with the responsibility of addressing social determinants.

It will be interesting to see what the next Merritt Hawkins survey uncovers in relation to physician perceptions of social determinants. Will anything change between now and then? We’ll see.