October 13, 2023

How Pharma Companies Can – And Should – Improve Social Determinants of Health

older man holding aloft a happy baby

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the non-medical factors that affect people’s health. They can include the conditions in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age1,2 — as well as factors like economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies and political systems.1

Why are SDOH important?

SDOH can drive as much as 80% of health outcomes3,4

A person’s zip code, not their genetic code, is the stronger predictor of their health!5 If this surprises you, consider:

  • People in rural communities can have reduced access to healthcare services.
  • Children born to parents who have not completed high school are more likely to live in unsafe housing and are less likely to have access to sidewalks, parks or libraries.6,7
  • One in 1 in 10 people in the United States live in poverty8 — and it has been shown that providing appropriate housing can reduce Medicaid acute care cost by 24%.

Imagine the changes that could occur if SDOH were addressed more consistently and completely.9

The government is playing an active role in creating SDOH initiatives

Lately, there has been increased recognition that things need to change. Addressing SDOH is one way that a government program, Healthy People 2030, is trying “improve the health and well-being of all.”10 The more than 350 program initiatives address economic stability, education access/quality, health care access/quality, neighborhood/built environment and social/community context,2 and focus on 23 high-priority leading health indicators (LHIs) that impact major causes of death and disease in the United States.11,12

These LHIs include: increasing employment in working-age people, increasing the proportion of people with health insurance, reducing household food insecurity and hunger, increasing the proportion of fourth-graders with reading skills at or above proficiency and reducing the number of days people are exposed to unhealthy air.13-16

Payers are taking notice

While it is still unclear which SDOH initiatives will flourish, payers are convinced of their potential impact on patient health: in the last year, Aetna, Anthem, CareSource, Humana and Kaiser Permanente have all participated in SDOH programs.17

How pharmaceutical companies can help

Pharmaceutical companies can also play an active part in improving SDOH – and EVERSANA INTOUCH can help.

  • They can facilitate discussions about policy issues that affect disadvantaged communities with elected officials.
  • They can initiate patient-assistance programs and provide clear direction to access them.
  • Building websites with accessibility guidelines in mind is a great way to store a wide range of information for both patients and physicians.
  • There is a high need for disease-education materials for patients regarding high-risk diseases in their communities. Pharmaceutical companies can develop and disperse these materials. These resources should consider community culture, preferred language and health literacy levels so that the materials are easy to comprehend and relatable.
  • Local leaders and/or respected members of the community can initiate educational conversations at social events or during medical visits. Potential leaders should enter a training program if they do not feel equipped to have those conversations on their own yet. Pharmaceutical companies can sponsor as well as provide these leaders.
  • Pharmaceutical companies can increase diversity in their clinical trials. Studies should include as detailed SDOH data as possible. Companies can also support pre-existing SDOH research initiatives.
  • Then of course, there is the heart of the matter—developing new medicines for diseases that disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities.

EVERSANA INTOUCH clients have done all of these things, and more. With these initiatives, and more on the horizon, we continue creating SDOH initiatives for the health and well-being of all.


  1. Social determinants of health. World Health Organization website. Accessed July 5, 2023. https://www.who.int/health-topics/social-determinants-of-health#tab=tab_1
  2. Social determinants of health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. Accessed July 5, 2023. https://health.gov/healthypeople/priority-areas/social-determinants-health
  3. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Medicaid’s role in addressing social determinants of health. Accessed July 5, 2023. https://www.rwjf.org/en/insights/our-research/2019/02/medicaid-s-role-in-addressing-socialdeterminants-of-health.html
  4. Carter BJ, Jafry MZ, Siddiqi AD, et al. Incorporation of social determinants of health into health care practice: a strategy to address health disparities. Elsevier Reference Collection in Biomedical Sciences. 2023. Accessed July 5, 2023. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128240106000162
  5. Graham G, Ostrowski M, Sabina A. Defeating the ZIP Code health paradigm: data, technology, and collaboration are key. Health Affairs website. August 2015. Accessed July 5, 2023. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20150806.049730/full/
  6. Essien UR, Kornej J, Johnson AE, et al. Social determinants of atrial fibrillation. Nat Rev Cardiol. 2021;18(11):763-773.
  7. Singh GK, Siahpush M, Kogan MD. Neighborhood socioeconomic conditions, built environments, and childhood obesity,” Health Affairs. 2010;29(3):503-512.
  8. Semega J, Kollar M, Creamer J, Mohanty A. Income and Poverty in the United States: 2018. United States Census Bureau. September 2019. Accessed July 5, 2023.