Toward Understanding Social Needs Among Primary Care Patients With Uncontrolled Diabetes

J Prim Care Community Health. Jan-Dec 2021;12:2150132720985044. doi: 10.1177/2150132720985044.


Introduction/objectives: Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to major health complications, and significantly contributes to diabetes-related morbidity, mortality, and healthcare costs. Few studies have examined the relationship between unmet social needs and diabetes control among predominantly Black and Hispanic patient populations.

Methods: In a large urban hospital system in the Bronx, NY, 5846 unique patients with diabetes seen at a primary care visit between April 2018 and December 2019 completed a social needs screener. Measures included diabetes control (categorized as Hemoglobin (Hb) A1c <9.0 as controlled and Hb A1C ≥9.0 as uncontrolled), social needs (10-item screen), and demographic covariates, including age, sex, race/ethnicity, insurance status, percentage of block-group poverty, patient's preferred language, and the Elixhauser Comorbidity Index.

Results: Twenty-two percent (22%) of the patient sample had at least 1 unmet social need, and the most prevalent unmet social needs were housing issues (including housing quality and insecurity), food insecurity, and lack of healthcare transportation. Logistic regression analysis showed a significant relationship between social needs and uncontrolled diabetes, with more social needs indicating a greater likelihood of uncontrolled diabetes (Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR) for ≥3 needs: 1.59, 95% CI: 1.26, 2.00). Of the patients with most frequently occurring unmet social needs, lack of healthcare transportation (AOR: 1.54, 95% CI: 1.22, 1.95) and food insecurity (AOR: 1.50, 95% CI: 1.19, 1.89) had the greatest likelihood of having uncontrolled diabetes, after adjusting for covariates.

Conclusion: Unmet social needs appear to be linked to a greater likelihood of uncontrolled diabetes. Implications for healthcare systems to screen and address social needs for patients with diabetes are discussed.

Keywords: community health; disease management; health outcomes; primary care; underserved communities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus* / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus* / therapy
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Poverty
  • Primary Health Care


  • Glycated Hemoglobin A