One-third of Americans say they have trouble meeting their basic human needs, such as stable housing, adequate food, and reliable transportation, and they want health care providers to help identify and address these non-medical social needs, according to the results of a new national survey from Kaiser Permanente. Those who experienced unmet social needs were twice as likely to rate their health as fair or poor compared to those who did not.

The survey, Social Needs in America, included the responses of 1,006 U.S. adults, age 18 and older, demographically matched to represent the U.S. population based on Census data. In addition, the organization had KRC Research conduct oversamples of the safety net population, which was defined as households that fall under 138 percent of the federal poverty line, and the Kaiser Permanente service regions. To ensure the total market was presented, the online blinded survey was offered in both English and Spanish.

Key findings
The national survey asked people about the barriers they face in meeting social needs, how those barriers prevent them from accessing necessary health care, and how they want their doctors, nurses, and other care providers to help bridge those gaps. The survey findings reveal that Americans are experiencing unmet social needs at significant rates:

  • 68 percent of Americans experienced at least one unmet social need in the past year
  • 28 percent of Americans experienced a barrier to health in the past year due to a social need, with 21 percent of them prioritizing paying for food or rent over seeing a doctor or getting a medication
  • If faced with a $500 emergency expense, 13 percent reported they would need to redirect funds from their good budget to cover the expense
  • Fewer than half (44 percent) could cover the expense from a dedicated emergency fund or cash they have on hand
  • Those surveyed view social needs as equally important to their health as medical care, with 89 percent of respondents saying safe and stable housing is very or extremely important to health and 80 percent saying reliable transportation is very or extremely important
  • Those who experience unmet social needs were twice as likely to rate their health as fair or poor (16 percent) compared to those who did not experience an unmet social need (6 percent)

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To help address patient needs for housing, food, safety, and utilities, Kaiser Permanente recently announced it will work with a social care coordination platform to connect health care and social service providers. The new Thrive Local network will first launch in its Northwest region, which includes Oregon and southwest Washington state.

 “We are eager to implement this network into our care delivery system because we know closing social care gaps will improve health outcomes,” said Northwest Permanente CEO Imelda Dacones, M.D., in an announcement. “Social determinants of health, or the economic and social conditions that influence health, drive most health outcomes. To address and create total health, we, as physicians, must have systems and networks that address our patients’ social needs.”