IOM: Lifelong education needed to tackle social determinants of health

Public health professionals and communities must work together to reduce health disparities
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The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a framework today for educating health professionals throughout their careers on social determinants of health and how to address them to reduce health inequities.

The IOM report, "A Framework for Educating Health Professionals to Address the Social Determinants of Health," also includes a model for using the framework to bring together organizations, communities and educators to address the problems.

Economic policies, cultural and social norms, social policies and political systems all affect the conditions people live in and the root causes of poor health, according to the IOM report and a brief on the report.

The report argued that "all health professionals need to develop an understanding during their foundational education and training of the outside forces that impact a person's, community's, or population's health and well-being."

A committee of experts convened by the IOM recommends health educators use the framework to create "lifelong learners who appreciate the value of relationships and collaborations for understanding and addressing community-identified needs and for strengthening community assets." Basically, the report said, they need to become advocates for change.

It also recommends preparing health professionals to partner with communities to address social determinants in health and to "increase the inclusivity and the diversity of the health professional student body and faculty." The framework and associated conceptual model "can help guide these groups to visualize how organizations, education, and communities come together collectively to eliminate health inequities and improve health for all."

Lifelong education like that recommended in the report could help cities like Baltimore as they try to tackle issues such as poverty, illicit drug use and violence that negatively affect population health. "My hope is that we can really make Baltimore into a model for the rest of the country to follow when it comes to treating the core roots of our problems," Health Commissioner Leana Wen said last year in the wake of unrest following the police-involved death of Freddie Gray.

Employment status also plays a role in population health, FierceHealthcare previously reported, ranking as the top socioeconomic factor affecting 30-day readmissions for heart failure, heart attacks or pneumonia.

Unemployment increased the risk of readmission by 18 percent, one study found; lack of a high school education increased the risk by 5 percent.