Why “Sync for Social Needs”

September 27, 2022 · Andy Reynolds

Unmet social needs have a profound impact on the health of Americans and on our healthcare system. To improve health, we must address those needs. And to do it most effectively, we should leverage the burgeoning interoperability of healthcare data.

Congress, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Officer of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC)are providing tools and guidance for the industry to realize a digital future.  And more organizations than ever are “walking the walk” when it comes to the crucial need to create a more equitable healthcare system.

The confluence of these two trends offers the opportunity to improve the health of millions of Americans.  A digital screening and intervention system for social needs will establish more accountable and actionable ways to  identify and address barriers to better health.

Our Wednesday at the White House

On Wednesday, September 28, the Biden-Harris Administration will host the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. NCQA is proud to be invited to participate.  We will bring to that event our experience in measuring healthcare quality, along with a heightened focus on health equity.

To create the incentives health plans and clinicians need to address unmet social needs, NCQA has introduced a measure on Social Need Screening and Intervention (SNS-E) to the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS™).   This measure helps health plans identify food, housing and transportation gaps among their populations and connect members with resources necessary to address unmet social needs.

Specifically, the measure will assess the percentage of members who:

  1. Were screened at least once during the measurement period, and
  2. Received an intervention corresponding to the type of need identified within 30 days of screening positive.

The intent is to catalyze health plan efforts to address the social needs of members and to advance standardized documentation and exchange of SDOH data. Medicare, Medicaid and Commercial health plans will first use the measure in 2023. They can report results using  electronic clinical data systems (such as EHRs, health information exchanges and case management systems).

But collecting and reporting data on social needs and interventions should not take time away from meeting those needs.

The White House conference is timely. The federal government is responding to the need to synchronize our health data systems.  This year and next, EHR vendors will “certify and provide” health IT systems capable of modern, internet-based data sharing methods using a suite of Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The ability to harness these advances to reduce hunger and improve health and nutrition among less-advantaged populations has never been greater.

Looking Ahead

NCQA is proud to work with the “Sync for Social Needs” coalition – a network of plans, systems, government agencies and electronic health record (EHR) vendors – to help standardize sharing patient data screened for, collected and integrated on social needs like food insecurity. We are also proud to scale this approach across more standards-based tools that lower burden on clinicians as they look for ways to address patients’ social needs.

NCQA is grateful to be a part of this groundbreaking work and for the Biden-Harris Administration’s leadership in highlighting the connection between social needs and health.  We look forward to partnering with the Administration and our fellow stakeholders in the health care community to improve health care for all Americans.

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