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What are social determinants of health?


There is more to good health than a good doctor. Social determinants of health include where one lives, one’s income and education level. [/caption]

Healthcare is just like any other genera of life; it has its catch phrases or cool words. So, being the cool person I am, I want to educate you on some of the latest slang.

All of us “cool” people know that when someone texts you “TMI” they are saying that you or they are sharing too much information. Likewise, “cool” people know when they text “IMHO” they are saying “In my honest opinion.”

One of those cool new, but old terms in healthcare is “social determinants of health.” So, when you hear this term, what are they really talking about? The term means that in addition to the medical care that an individual receives from their health care provider, there are other factors of life that determine how well one’s health is really addressed.

These factors include one’s surroundings, or where they live, their background, lifestyle choices, economic status, social conditions and spirituality.

So just writing a prescription for a medication that will help heal a medical problem is no longer the complete answer to the question. In order to completely invest in the care of someone, it is important for health care providers to know more.

The next term I want to introduce you to is known as “zip-code risk.” Those in government are now using this term instead of “social determinants of health.” Zip-code risk makes it easier for lawmakers to understand how a person’s lack of money can undermine their ability to lead a healthy lifestyle and thus avoid illness and disease. Hopefully, zip codes can help lawmakers know exactly where to allocate funds for our most vulnerable residents and populations in need.

Your zip code has long been a determinant of your health. Local zip codes of just miles apart can be used to estimate the lifespans of residents of that area. People with zip codes in more affluent areas of a community will and do live longer.

AS we continue to address the COVID-19 crisis, social determinants are currently being utilized to help public health agencies effectively target vaccine distribution first to our most vulnerable communities. Now we need laser focused targeting of this information to improve our societal infrastructures to help protect people now and in the future. We need healthcare providers, social workers, community workers and others to help people who reside in these so-called zip-code risk communities. Studies have shown that the cost of implementing preventive measures are much cheaper on the front end that on the back end. We need new, innovative methods to ultimately decrease the dichotomy that exists in the social determinants of health. I believe we are up to the task. Lives depend upon it. IMHO.

Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at