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Screening and referral care delivery services and unmet health-related social needs: a systematic review

E. Ruiz Escobar, S. Pathak, C.M. Blanchard
Prev Chronic Dis

Introduction: Unmet health-related social needs contribute to high patient morbidity and poor population health. A potential solution to improve population health includes the adoption of care delivery models that alleviate unmet needs through screening, referral, and tracking of patients in health care settings, yet the overall impact of such models has remained unexplored. This review addresses an existing gap in the literature regarding the effectiveness of these models and assesses their overall impact on outcomes related to experience of care, population health, and costs. Methods: In March 2020, we searched for peer-reviewed articles published in PubMed over the past 10 years. Studies were included if they 1) used a screening tool for identifying unmet health-related social needs in a health care setting, 2) referred patients with positive screens to appropriate resources for addressing identified unmet health-related social needs, and 3) reported any outcomes related to patient experience of care, population health, or cost. Results: Of 1,821 articles identified, 35 met the inclusion criteria. All but 1 study demonstrated a tendency toward high risk of bias. Improved outcomes related to experience of care (eg, change in social needs, patient satisfaction, n = 34), population health (eg, diet quality, blood cholesterol levels, n = 7), and cost (eg, program costs, cost-effectiveness, n = 3) were reported. In some studies (n = 5), improved outcomes were found among participants who received direct referrals or additional assistance with indirect referrals compared with those who received indirect referrals only. Conclusion: Effective collaborations between health care organizations and community-based organizations are essential to facilitate necessary patient connection to resources for addressing their unmet needs. Although evidence indicated a positive influence of screening and referral programs on outcomes related to experience of care and population health, no definitive conclusions can be made on overall impact because of the potentially high risk of bias in the included studies.

Ruiz Escobar E, Pathak S, Blanchard CM. Screening and referral care delivery services and unmet health-related social needs: a systematic review. Prev Chronic Dis. 2021 Aug 12;18:E78. doi: 10.5888/pcd18.200569. PMID: 34387188.

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Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Social Determinant of Health
Economic Security
Health Care Access
Housing Stability
Social Support/Social Isolation
Study design