National Academy of Medicine

Standardized Screening for Health-Related Social Needs in Clinical Settings: The Accountable Health Communities Screening Tool

By Alexander Billioux, Katherine Verlander, Susan Anthony, and Dawn Alley
May 30, 2017 | Discussion Paper

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.





Suggested Citation

Billioux, A., K. Verlander, S. Anthony, and D. Alley. 2017. Standardized Screening for Health-Related Social Needs in Clinical Settings: The Accountable Health Communities Screening Tool. NAM Perspectives. Discussion Paper, National Academy of Medicine, Washington, DC. doi: 10.31478/201705b


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not necessarily of the authors’ organizations, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies). The paper is intended to help inform and stimulate discussion. It is not a report of the NAM or the National Academies. Copyright by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.