This article was featured in Physician’s Practice

As physicians, we are trained to diagnose and treat illness. But all too often we know that the surface-level symptoms we address mask health risks that run much deeper. When an asthmatic child from an inner-city neighborhood makes repeat visits to the emergency department, the excellent care he receives works to stabilize him so that he can safely return home. But how long will it be until he returns?

Unfortunately, until healthcare advances, it will only be a matter of time – which is why this traditional model of care is no longer enough. To provide genuinely comprehensive care, physicians must look beyond the immediate to understand the true context of health. In the case of the young boy, his pediatrician would wonder why an otherwise healthy child requires regular emergency attention. He’d partner with local resources to look outside his diagnosis, and beyond his immediate symptoms, to check whether localized air pollution might be exacerbating his condition.

By knowing their populations, caregivers can ensure they can customize plans to help close gaps in care, limit the effects of SDOH, drive health equity, and advance preventive care that reduces costs. Only then will medicine be able to truly impact well-being, population health outcomes, and spend.

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