The impacts of unmet health-related social needs, such as homelessness, inconsistent access to food, and exposure to violence on health and health care utilization, are well-established. Growing evidence indicates that addressing these and other needs can help reverse their damaging health effects, but screening for social needs is not yet standard clinical practice. In many communities, the absence of established pathways and infrastructure and perceptions of inadequate time to make community referrals are barriers that seem to often keep clinicians and their staff from broaching the topic. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Accountable Health Communities Model, tested by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, addresses this critical gap between clinical care and community services in the current health care delivery system by testing whether systematically identifying and addressing the health-related social needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries impacts their total health care costs and improves health.
With input from a panel of national experts and after review of existing screening instruments, CMS developed a 10-item screening tool to identify patient needs in 5 different domains that can be addressed through community services (housing instability, food insecurity, transportation difficulties, utility assistance needs, and interpersonal safety). Clinicians and their staff can use this short tool across a spectrum of ages, backgrounds, and settings, and it is streamlined enough to be incorporated into busy clinical workflows. Just like with clinical assessment tools, results from this screening tool can be used to inform a patient’s treatment plan as well as make referrals to community services.
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