Readers Respond: Physicians and the Social Side of Health

Dec 27, 2011, 6:33 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Earlier this month, we featured a guest post from Dr. Douglas Jutte, MD, MPH, with a physician’s perspective on how unmet social needs—like access to nutritious food, transportation assistance and housing assistance—are affecting the health of Americans.

NewPublicHealth readers from medical students to public health'ers weighed in with their take on the social determinants of health and the role of physicians—and, importantly, other partners beyond health care—in creating change. The conversation evolved from "what's the problem?" to "so what do we do about it?"

Some other highlights of the conversation include:

  • Readers shared innovative solutions such as: involving social workers in the care continuum (from Kevin Trout) as well as supervised students from varied disciplines to fill care coordination and services gaps (from "Thomasd" of the Washington University Program in Occupational Therapy in St. Louis); providing financial incentives for prevention to at-risk populations (from Rob Yates); and educating the public about the role of poverty and other social factors in health (via the Population Health Working Group in Western Nova Scotia).

  • Readers also offered suggestions for different kinds of training for physicians. Anne Hoisington recommended Oregon State University's free, online CME course on childhood food insecurity; while medical student Anna Chin shared her idea of offering immersion training for medical students in serving vulnerable populations.

  • Another common thread was the idea that physicians are just one set of players in the coalition of partners that need to be involved in improving health. "Health care professionals and institutions cannot do it alone, a fact best illustrated by a good, working definition of the community conditions needed to maintain good health," said Diane Wolfe. Maria Sipin from A Healthy Design agreed, commenting, "To create a healthy community, the community needs to get involved. Residents, business owners, city leaders, teachers in addition to health care providers have a role to play." And Emma R. M. Cohen suggested we involve fields beyond health such as transportation and education.

  • Several readers commented on unique challenges faced in addressing health in rural areas. Rebecca Huenink of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Southern Appalachia is working on new models to meet their population's needs, including a community health worker model developed by Dr. Wayne Miller of the school's Center for Rural and Community Health (Dr. Miller described the model in his comment as well).

Thank you all for weighing in with such great comments, and we hope to hear from you again soon! Let's keep the conversation going.

>>Check out all of the comments and join the conversation here.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.