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Study: Asking patients about social needs leads to health improvement

New research shows that when primary care patients get help attaining basic resources — like food, housing, heat and access to affordable medicines — it leads to improvements in their blood pressure and cholesterol levels (Source: “Health Innovator: Patients Who Are Asked About Food, Heat See Medical Benefits,” WBUR radio (Boston), Dec. 12, 2016).

The findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, were based on analysis of Health Leads, a Boston-based nonprofit founded 20 years ago by a Harvard undergraduate.

While the study results may be intuitive, they provide further evidence that Health Leads is on the right track by focusing on patients' "unmet social needs" as a critical pathway toward true health.

In January, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center designated $157 million for a pilot project, part of the "Accountable Health Communities" model, to test whether screening patients and then addressing social needs could improve their health, while also saving money and reducing utilization. When the program is fully implemented, more than 15 million patients will be undergoing this type of social needs screening.