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Racial health equity and social needs interventions: A review of a scoping review

Cené CW, Viswanathan M, Fichtenberg CM, Sathe NA, Kennedy SM, Gottlieb LM; Cartier Y, Peek ME
JAMA Netw Open

Importance  Social needs interventions aim to improve health outcomes and mitigate inequities by addressing health-related social needs, such as lack of transportation or food insecurity. However, it is not clear whether these studies are reducing racial or ethnic inequities.

Objective  To understand how studies of interventions addressing social needs among multiracial or multiethnic populations conceptualize and analyze differential intervention outcomes by race or ethnicity.

Evidence Review  Sources included a scoping review of systematic searches of PubMed and the Cochrane Library from January 1, 1995, through November 29, 2021, expert suggestions, and hand searches of key citations. Eligible studies evaluated interventions addressing social needs; reported behavioral, health, or utilization outcomes or harms; and were conducted in multiracial or multiethnic populations. Two reviewers independently assessed titles, abstracts, and full text for inclusion. The team developed a framework to assess whether the study was “conceptually thoughtful” for understanding root causes of racial health inequities (ie, noted that race or ethnicity are markers of exposure to racism) and whether analyses were “analytically informative” for advancing racial health equity research (ie, examined differential intervention impacts by race or ethnicity).

Findings  Of 152 studies conducted in multiracial or multiethnic populations, 44 studies included race or ethnicity in their analyses; of these, only 4 (9%) were conceptually thoughtful. Twenty-one studies (14%) were analytically informative. Seven of 21 analytically informative studies reported differences in outcomes by race or ethnicity, whereas 14 found no differences. Among the 7 that found differential outcomes, 4 found the interventions were associated with improved outcomes for minoritized racial or ethnic populations or reduced inequities between minoritized and White populations. No studies were powered to detect differences.

Conclusions and Relevance  In this review of a scoping review, studies of social needs interventions in multiracial or multiethnic populations were rarely conceptually thoughtful for understanding root causes of racial health inequities and infrequently conducted informative analyses on intervention effectiveness by race or ethnicity. Future work should use a theoretically sound conceptualization of how race (as a proxy for racism) affects social drivers of health and use this understanding to ensure social needs interventions benefit minoritized racial and ethnic groups facing social and structural barriers to health.

Cené CW, Viswanathan M, Fichtenberg CM, et al. Racial health equity and social needs interventions: a review of a scoping review. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(1):e2250654. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.50654

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Peer Reviewed Research
Social Determinant of Health
Economic Security
Health Care Access
Housing Quality
Housing Stability
Legal Services
Social Support/Social Isolation
Study design