Clinical factors are responsible for just 20 percent of individuals’ health outcomes; the remainder can be attributed to factors such as health-related social needs (HRSNs). Increasing recognition of the impact of these needs on consumers’ health and livelihoods is driving momentum across the healthcare ecosystem to integrate health and social care, creating opportunities for healthcare entities to design consumer-centric models of care tailored to individual needs and preferences. This article synthesizes insights gleaned from a survey of more than 5,000 US consumers that highlights how HRSNs are evolving; their potential impact on healthcare use, preferences, and outcomes; and actions healthcare entities may consider to effectively support consumers’ needs (see sidebars, “Survey methodology” and “Definitions”).
Key findings include the following:
- Health-related social needs such as childcare, social support, and transportation are very common; nearly half of all consumers (45 percent) reported experiencing at least one on a regular basis. Among consumers reporting health-related social needs, the majority have more than one unmet need.
- HRSNs affect consumers across socioeconomic levels and insurance types, suggesting programs could be designed to meet the needs of a variety of consumer segments.
- Consumers with HRSNs were more likely to report poor physical and mental health and barriers to accessing care.
- Consumers with multiple HRSNs were more likely than other groups to report seeking support from family or friends, yet roughly 20 percent do not seek support.
- Consumers said they want health systems, health insurance companies, and employers to better understand their needs, suggesting these entities could play a greater role in meeting those needs.
Looking ahead, health insurance companies, health systems, employers, and others could consider a range of actions to address health-related social needs. For example, they could design consumer-centric solutions, explore a network of partnerships to address the wide range of needs, tailor support to caregivers and families rather than solely to individuals, and focus on access and flexibility.
Entities across the healthcare ecosystem can take action to better meet consumers’ health-related social needs:
- Recognize that HRSNs affect consumers across socioeconomic levels and insurance types, and design programs to meet the needs of a variety of consumers.
- Design consumer-centric solutions (for example, with consumer input and involvement) to ensure they are tailored to be usable and effective (for example, matching personalized consumer preferences, ensuring transparency, prioritizing convenience, and reflecting cultural sensitivity).
- Explore a network of partnerships across the healthcare ecosystem to address a range of needs, given that consumers typically face multiple unmet needs.
- Consider the needs of caregivers and the family broadly—in addition to the individual—because roughly one-fourth of consumers reported seeking help from friends and family.
- Focus on improving convenience and personalization in HRSN programming, because this may significantly reduce hurdles to receiving care and other benefits.
For more information on tactical actions that health systems can take, see Tamara Baer, Erica Coe, Anne Koffel, and Jordan VanLare, “Patients struggle with unmet basic needs: Medical providers can help,” McKinsey, April 1, 2022.