The Importance of Social Determinants of Health in Patient Care / by IMAGINE Clinic

According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 1948), health is not simply defined as the absence of disease or infirmity, but a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that lower socioeconomic status, inadequate housing, and reduced access to food have negative impacts on health on both an individual and population level (Marmot et al., 2008). In fact, half of population health outcomes are accredited to these social determinants of health (Keon & Pépin, 2008), which are factors beyond medical intervention. Thus, it is vital for health care professionals to consider such factors in order to effectively provide holistic patient-centred care.
Reports have linked poorer public health to food insecurity (Tarasuk, 2001) and social exclusion (Huxley & Thornicroft, 2003) as they may induce chronic stress. In our society, individuals who experience homelessness lack food security and are often ignored. More importantly, they lack adequate housing. It is worth considering the chronic stress that these individuals are experiencing on a daily basis. In practice, health care providers will encounter these targeted populations. A practitioner’s genuine empathy and concern may be of greater importance to these patients than their recommended medical intervention. I will end off with a famous quote by John C. Maxwell - “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care”.


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Keon WJ & Pépin L. Population health policy: issues and options. Ottawa (ON): Senate of Canada; 2008. Available: (accessed 2011 Jan. 14).

Marmot M, Friel S, Bell R, Houweling TA, Taylor S. Closing the gap in a generation: health equity through action on the social determinants of health. Lancet. 2008; 372(9650):1661-1669.

Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.

Tarasuk V. A critical examination of community-based responses to household food insecurity in Canada. Health Educ Behav. 2001; 28(4): 487–499.