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When there is value in asking: An argument for social risk screening in clinical practice

Byhoff E, Gottlieb LM
Ann Intern Med

Assessing patients' social context is increasingly considered an essential step on the road toward health equity. Yet, health care clinicians have not wholly embraced social-screening practices. Clinicians cite several reasons for their reluctance to collect social needs information, chief among which is the inability to “cure” social adversity. Garg and colleagues argue that screening for social risks without a solution for the many consequences of poverty and structural racism can result in unintended harms for patient trust and clinician empowerment. This framing undermines the benefits of social screening, which are distinct from the screen and referral pathway.

We describe 4 benefits of social-screening initiatives supported by recent research, unrelated to the resolution of social adversity. Together, they might help clinicians think differently about the promise of social-screening initiatives in health care settings. We conclude by highlighting why these potential benefits may go unrealized even in settings where screening is undertaken and recommend ways to increase the likelihood that social screening contributes to improvements in patient, provider, and population health.

Byhoff E, Gottlieb LM. When there is value in asking: an argument for social risk screening in clinical practice Ann Intern Med. 2022;. DOI:10.7326/m22-0147. PMID: 35696689

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Screening research