Health Care Professionals' Perspectives on Universal Screening of Social Determinants of Health: A Mixed-Methods Study

Popul Health Manag. 2022 Jun;25(3):367-374. doi: 10.1089/pop.2021.0176. Epub 2021 Oct 25.


Social determinants of health (SDH) contribute to nearly 50% of health outcomes; however, SDH data collection is inconsistent in clinical practice. This study used mixed methods to evaluate health care professionals' perceptions of universal SDH screening at an academic medical center by surveying physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, social workers, case managers, pharmacists, and administrators. An electronic survey assessed SDH screening practices, prioritization of SDH domains, disciplines to perform screening, and attitudes and barriers to universal screening. Likert-scale responses were dichotomized and compared disciplines with proportions tests. Qualitative interviews identified themes and elaborated survey findings. Participant discipline was the primary predictor variable. Of 193 survey participants (62.5% response rate), most were physicians (31%) or social workers (22%). Participants overwhelmingly reported using SDH information in patient care (93%), and social workers as the most appropriate role for screening (95%). Most respondents (75%) believed health literacy is important, but 40% reported routine assessment. Housing status (73% vs. 53%) and financial strain (62% vs. 48%) followed similar patterns. SDH screening barriers included lacking resources to address identified needs (51%), time to ask (45%), support staff to ask (33%), and training in responding to identified needs (28%). Social workers cited barriers less often than non-social workers (P < 0.001). Qualitative interviews (n = 16) supported survey findings and described barriers including lack of time, resources, standardized approaches, and professional burnout. Health care professionals support universal SDH screening while highlighting the need to address implementation barriers. Strategies should leverage social work expertise and optimize SDH data accessibility for all providers.

Keywords: clinical screening; health care professional perspectives; social determinants of health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Social Determinants of Health*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires