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Telephone-based social health screening by pharmacists in the nonadherent Medicare population

Wu L, Chang C, Lo K, Butler K, Uratsu C, McCloskey J, Ranatunga D, Grant R, Deguzman L
J Manag Care Spec Pharm

BACKGROUND: Unmet social health needs are associated with medication nonadherence. Although pharmacists are well positioned to address medication nonadherence, there is limited experience with screening for and addressing social health needs.

OBJECTIVES: To compare the prevalence of social health needs among Medicare patients with higher vs lower social health risk using a predictive model. To also evaluate pre-post changes in medication adherence and health care use following a pharmacist-initiated social health screening.

METHODS: A social health screening workflow was implemented into a routine pharmacist adherence program at an integrated health care delivery system. The social health screening was conducted during medication adherence outreach phone calls with Medicare members who were overdue for statin, blood pressure, or diabetes medications. We developed a social health need predictive algorithm to flag higher-risk patients and tested this algorithm against a random subset of lower-risk patients. Screening conversations were guided by a focus group that developed open-ended questions to identify social health needs. Comparisons in social health needs were made between higher- and lower-risk patients. Use and adherence outcomes were compared pre and post for patients who accepted a referral to social health resources and patients who declined a referral.

RESULTS: 1,217 patients were contacted and screened for social health needs by pharmacists. Patients flagged by the social risk algorithm were more likely to report social health needs (28.7% vs 12.7% in the unflagged group; P < 0.01). Commonly reported needs included transportation (43%), finances (34%), caregiving (22%), mental health (11%), and food access (10%). 221 patients accepted a referral to a central resource website and call center that connected patients to local services. One year after screening dates, patients who did not accept a referral spent more time in the hospital (mean change +0.7 days, SD = 7.3, P < 0.01), had fewer primary care visits (mean change -0.5 visits, SD = 6.5, P < 0.01), and had a shorter length of membership (mean change -0.4 months, SD = 1.9, P < 0.01). Patients who accepted a referral had increased statin adherence (62.3% adherent pre vs 74.7% post, P = 0.02).

CONCLUSIONS: We implemented a workflow for pharmacists to screen for social health needs. The social health need prediction model doubled the identification rate of patients who have needs. Intervening on social health needs during these calls may improve statin adherence and may have no adverse effect on health care utilization or health plan membership. 

Wu L, Chang C, Lo K, et al. Telephone-based social health screening by pharmacists in the nonadherent Medicare population. J Manag Care Spec Pharm. 2023;29(11):1184-1192. DOI:10.18553/jmcp.2023.29.11.1184. PMID: 37889865

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Publication year
Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Social Needs/ SDH
Health & Health Behaviors
Screening research
Social Determinant of Health
Economic Security
Housing Stability
Legal Services
Social Support/Social Isolation
Study design
Pre-post without Comparison Group