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BCBS Targets Medical Transportation, Social Determinants of Health

The organization will partner with medical transportation and pharmacy services groups to address the social determinants of health and the ZIP code effect.

social determinants of health

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) has created the Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute (BCBS Institute), an organization geared toward addressing the social determinants of health.

BCBSI will begin its work by addressing transportation and pharmacy needs.

BCBS Institute will leverage specific healthcare technologies and medical or community partnerships to address the social issues that impact a patient’s ability to access healthcare or be healthy. The social determinants of health include numerous factors such as living environment, educational attainment, ability to access care, race, socioeconomic status, and several other patient characteristics.

BCBS Institute will first address what many medical professionals call the ZIP code effect. The ZIP code effect indicates that certain social determinants of health impact patients at disproportionate rates depending upon the neighborhood in which the patients live. For example, certain neighborhoods may have transportation, pharmacy, nutrition, and fitness deserts.

"Conservative estimates show 60 percent of health outcomes are driven by social determinants of health, including lifestyle behaviors and environmental factors," BCBS Institute Chief Medical Officer and President Trent Haywood, MD, explained in a statement.

Separate estimates say that about 80 percent of health is influenced by the social determinants of health.

"The time is more critical than ever for American business leaders to bring to bear the might and ingenuity of the world's strongest economy to affect positive change in the health of all Americans," said BCBSA President and CEO Scott P. Serota.

"Serving one in three Americans in nearly every geographic area in the country, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies know all too well that what often dictates health isn't genetic code, but ZIP code,” added Serota, who is also chairman of the BCBS Institute.

BCBS Institute will use ZIP code data to stratify patients by social needs. In partnership with Lyft, CVS Health, and Walgreens, the Institute first hopes to address transportation and pharmacy deserts.

BCBS will help connect its beneficiaries with services from the Institute’s partners. Ideally, it should allow patients to better access medical treatment as well as the medications that follow as a part of that treatment.

This effort is a part of Lyft’s overall goals of reducing care gaps caused by transportation barriers by 50 percent within the next two weeks, an ambition the company announced at this year’s HIMSS conference in Las Vegas.

"Lyft is proud to partner with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association to address the social determinants of health through the launch of their new Institute," said Lyft Co-Founder and President John Zimmer. "The work we're doing with BCBSA is critical to our goal of reducing the transportation health care gap by 50 percent in the next two years—and a key part of our mission to improve people's lives with the world's best transportation."

Ensuring patient access to care goes beyond offering comprehensive health insurance and quality care. It also includes connecting patients with the medical resources needed to support health. Many patients face geographic or financial barriers to pharmacy services. This partnership between BCBS Institute and CVS Health and Walgreens will work to identify specific barriers and develop strategies to overcome them.

"A growing number of Americans live in areas where medical care is beyond reach, even when they have health insurance," stated Troyen Brennan, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for CVS Health. "Through working with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute, we are committed to addressing issues that are inextricably linked to health outcomes and which are greatly improved when people have access to pharmacies."

At Walgreens, this partnership is a part of their population health management strategy, according to Walgreens Vice President of Health Care Services Nimesh Jhaveri.

"At Walgreens, we pride ourselves on being a source of care that is both trusted and accessible. This initiative brings greater accessibility to populations in need, and we look forward to bringing our growing range of pharmacy and health services to a larger population," Jhaveri noted.

The medical community has continued to pay attention to the social determinants of health. The social determinants of health can impact health equity as well as health outcomes. When healthcare organizations address these issues, they can increase outcomes and reduce the likelihood of a costly, adverse medical event.

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