Unmet Social Health Needs as a Driver of Inequitable Outcomes After Surgery: A Cross-sectional Analysis of the National Health Interview Survey

Ann Surg. 2023 Aug 1;278(2):193-200. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000005689. Epub 2022 Aug 26.


Objective: This study aims to identify opportunities to improve surgical equity by evaluating unmet social health needs by race, ethnicity, and insurance type.

Background: Although inequities in surgical care and outcomes based on race, ethnicity, and insurance have been well documented for decades, underlying drivers remain poorly understood.

Methods: We used the 2008-2018 National Health Interview Survey to identify adults age 18 years and older who reported surgery in the past year. Outcomes included poor health status (self-reported), socioeconomic status (income, education, employment), and unmet social health needs (food, housing, transportation). We used logistic regression models to progressively adjust for the impact of patient demographics, socioeconomic status, and unmet social health needs on health status.

Results: Among a weighted sample of 14,471,501 surgical patients, 30% reported at least 1 unmet social health need. Compared with non-Hispanic White patients, non-Hispanic Black, and Hispanic patients reported higher rates of unmet social health needs. Compared with private insurance, those with Medicaid or no insurance reported higher rates of unmet social health needs. In fully adjusted models, poor health status was independently associated with unmet social health needs: food insecurity [adjusted odds ratio (aOR)=2.14; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.89-2.41], housing instability (aOR=1.69; 95% CI: 1.51-1.89), delayed care due to lack of transportation (aOR=2.58; 95% CI: 2.02-3.31).

Conclusions: Unmet social health needs vary significantly by race, ethnicity, and insurance, and are independently associated with poor health among surgical populations. As providers and policymakers prioritize improving surgical equity, unmet social health needs are potential modifiable targets.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethnicity
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Medicaid*
  • United States