To describe social needs among low‐income adults and estimate the relationship between level of unmet social needs and key indicators of health care access and quality.
National survey data from 12 states from the 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which added a “Social Determinants of Health” Module in 2017.
We examined differences in eight measures of health care access and quality (eg, check‐up in last 12 months, inability to see doctor due to cost, receipt of eye examination for diabetics) for low‐income adults with 0, 1, 2‐3, and 4+ unmet social needs based on 7 social needs measures. We used adjusted logistic regression models to estimate the association between level of unmet need and each outcome.
Most common unmet social needs included not having enough money for balanced meals (33 percent) or food (32 percent). After adjusting for observable characteristics, higher levels of unmet social need were associated with poorer access and quality. Compared to those with no reported unmet needs, having 4+ unmet needs was significantly associated with reduced probability of having a yearly check‐up (65 percent vs 78 percent, adjusted difference = −7.1 percentage points (PP)), receiving a flu vaccine (33 percent vs 42 percent, adjusted difference = −5.4 PP), having a personal doctor (74 percent vs 80 percent, adjusted difference = −3.1 PP), and having a foot (63 percent vs 80 percent, adjusted difference = −12.8 PP) or eye examination (61 percent vs 73 percent, adjusted difference = −12.6 PP) for diabetic patients, and increased probability of being unable to see a doctor due to cost (44 percent vs 9 percent, adjusted difference = 27.9 PP) and having diabetes affect the eyes (22 percent vs 19 percent, adjusted difference = 8.0 PP) at = 0.05.
Higher levels of unmet social needs were associated with poorer access to and quality of care among low‐income adults. Addressing social needs both inside and outside of health care settings may help mitigate these negative effects. Additional research on if and how to effectively do so is critical.