Understanding Member Reluctance and Best Practices for Effective Outreach: Takeaways from Modern Healthcare

September 5, 2023

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Kara Hartnett at Modern Healthcare to contribute to her article, Distrustful patients, scarce resources hamper social needs screening. Our discussion centered on how the focus in healthcare has broadened from solely treating diseases to additionally addressing a patient’s individual personal needs.

Providers and health plans alike understand that social needs factors play a pivotal role in a patient’s well-being. No one will engage in a cancer screening or wellness visit until there is food on the table and a roof over the family’s head.

However, there is a significant hurdle to overcome. Patients and members are reluctant to divulge personal information about their nonmedical challenges.

Needs such as housing insecurity, food disparity or transportation challenges are deeply personal and sensitive topics. Health plan members, particularly vulnerable and high-risk populations, may only share this information through trusted, one-to-one relationships.

It is imperative that providers and health plans fully understand the key issues behind patient reluctance to share personal information during SDOH screenings. Here are a few basics to recognize:

  • Patients and members harbor mistrust toward providers and health plans fearing potential negative consequences for sharing their personal information.
  • Patients and members often don’t see how disclosing nonmedical issues will lead to any meaningful assistance.
  • Personal shame and fear of repercussions in admitting living environments and food insecurity run rampant.
  • Resources to redirect patients are limited, especially in rural areas. This makes immediate resolution of an income, food, housing or transportation challenge difficult to resolve immediately during a screening call or visit, when the social need is most urgent.

In the Modern Healthcare article, I share some proven advice for building trust and fostering strong patient and member engagement. Dr. Anand Shah, Vice President of Social Health at Kaiser Permanente and Lisa McNerney, Manager of clinical social workers at Duke Health, also explore best practices. Here are the key takeaways from our conversation.

  • Integrate technology to communicate with patients or members in their preferred mode: phone, text, chat, email, etc. And tailor language to specific patient populations.
  • Provide empathetic outreach to patients first, ask screening questions second.
  • Be transparent about the need for each screening question and how the data will be used.
  • Create scripts for outreach workers to explain the purpose of SDOH screenings.
  • Ensure a prompt and seamless referral process to connect patients with necessary resources.

Screening patients for social determinants of health is a vital step toward patient-centered care. However, patients’ reluctance, mistrust and the scarcity of resources present formidable obstacles. Providers and health plans must use their data and technology to communicate and build trusted relationships with members. Only then can they address social needs and improve overall well-being across the communities and populations they serve.