Using structured and unstructured data to identify patients’ need for services that address the social determinants of health

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Introduction Increasingly, health care providers are adopting population health management approaches that address the social determinants of health (SDH). However, effectively identifying patients needing services that address a SDH in primary care settings is challenging. The purpose of the current study is to explore how various data sources can identify adult primary care patients that are in need of services that address SDH. Methods A cross-sectional study described patients in need of SDH services offered by a safety-net hospital's federally qualified health center clinics. SDH services of social work, behavioral health, nutrition counseling, respiratory therapy, financial planning, medical-legal partnership assistance, patient navigation, and pharmacist consultation were offered on a co-located basis and were identified using structured billing and scheduling data, and unstructured electronic health record data. We report the prevalence of the eight different SDH service needs and the patient characteristics associated with service need. Moreover, characteristics of patients with SDH services need documented in structured data sources were compared with those documented by unstructured data sources. Results More than half (53%) of patients needed SDH services. Those in need of such services tended to be female, older, more medically complex, and higher utilizers of services. Structured and unstructured data sources exhibited poor agreement on patient SDH services need. Patients with SDH services need documented by unstructured data tended to be more complex. Discussion The need for SDH services among a safety-net population is high. Identifying patients in need of such services requires multiple data sources with structured and unstructured data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-106
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Informatics
StatePublished - Nov 2017



  • Medical informatics
  • Primary health care
  • Social determinants of health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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