Academic health centers recognize the importance of incorporating the social determinants of health (SDOH) in their approaches to improve individual and population health.
What are the Social Determinants of Health?
An individual’s health prospects are shaped by a variety of factors beyond what has been inherited (genetics) and the medical care that is received. These factors are called the social determinants of health. They include an individual’s social circumstances, environment, and behavioral patterns.
Social Determinants of Health Initiative
In 2012, the initiative was created to assist member institutions to incorporate the social determinants of health in their education, research, and clinical care missions.
- Vision: For all academic health centers to acknowledge and account for the important role the social determinants of health play in the overall health and well-being of patients, populations, and communities and respond to these critical factors in their education, clinical, and research programs.
- Goal: To develop, evaluate, share, and pilot tools and strategies for academic health centers to address the social determinants of health and to help academic health centers demonstrate measurable improvements in the health and well-being of communities and populations.
The Social Determinants of Health Initiative aimed to provide programs and resources to help member institutions and partners collaborate to better address these in the communities they serve. A website (Where Health Begins) was created and hosted as part of the initiative and included an online toolkit, webinars, publications, and meetings. The initiative culminated in a 2015 report: Academic Health Centers and the Social Determinants of Health: Challenges and Barriers, Responses and Solutions.
Initiative History and Milestones
SDOH Initiative Begins
In 2010, the association was approached by two of its member institutions about the possibility of working to address the social determinants of health, and translating local, isolated successes by several member institutions into a broader national movement.
Stakeholder Meeting Convened
The first meeting, in 2011, on Academic Health Centers and the Social Determinants of Health challenged academic health center leaders to look beyond their traditional focus areas and find ways to apply SDOH research findings in their mission areas and funding priorities to start building national momentum among academic health centers.
AAHC Board Adopts Resolution
In 2012, the AAHC Board of Directors endorsed the AAHC’s commitment to advance the focus of member institutions on the social determinants of health:
“Because the social determinants of health play such an important role in overall health and well-being, the Board supports AAHC’s efforts to enhance the ability of academic health centers to respond to these critical factors in their education, research, and clinical programs.”
Second Stakeholder Meeting Convened
The second meeting, in 2012, on Academic Health Centers and the Social Determinants of Health focused on developing strategies for academic health centers to improve the health of the communities they serve by more fully addressing the SDOH in all their mission areas, as well as by creating strategic partnerships with the public health community.
Online Toolkit Developed
An online SDOH toolkit, wherehealthbegins.org, was created in 2013 to advance efforts to build a national movement around academic health centers and SDOH and facilitate communication and partnerships between academic health center leaders and representatives from a variety of other sectors. The AAHC hosted the website until its merger with AAMC in 2022.
Third Stakeholder Meeting Convened
In 2014, the third meeting on Academic Health Centers and the Social Determinants of Health focused on the importance of interprofessional education and collaborative practice in addressing SDOH, as well as the various policy barriers to improving population health and strategies to overcome those challenges.
SDOH Report Released
Coming out of meeting proceedings summaries and calls for action, in 2015 the AAHC released the report Academic Health Centers and the Social Determinants of Health: Challenges and Barriers, Responses, and Solutions.
Global Issues Forum Addresses SDOH
The 2016 AAHC Global Issues Forum tackled the complicated issues surrounding SDOH globally. Topics discussed included strategic partnerships, measuring program impact, addressing the effect of social determinants on community health, and best practice program models for addressing SDOH for academic health centers worldwide.