Social Determinants of Health for Health Care Professionals

The social determinants of health are the interrelated social, political and economic factors that create the conditions in which people live, learn, work and play.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care's 2018 Health Equity Guideline recognizes sixteen key social determinants of health that have the potential to influence health in positive and negative ways. Income, for example, plays a significant role in determining whether someone will endure negative or positive health outcomes.

The intersection of the social determinants of health causes these conditions to shift and change over time and across the life span, impacting the health of individuals, groups and communities in different ways.

How can I help patients address their social needs?

What health care professionals should know

The social determinants of health may affect many of your patients. Some of your patients may struggle with issues such as making ends meet, accessing healthy food to eat or navigating government assistance programs. It's important to be aware of the resources that exist to be able support your patients with all of their underlying health needs.

The Physicians and Health Equity: Opportunities in Practice report lists areas of intervention that have been identified by physicians for addressing health equity within practice:

  • Linking patients with supportive community programs and services
  • Asking questions about a patient's social and economic circumstances
  • Integrating considerations of social and economic conditions into treatment planning, such as cost of medications
  • Advocating for changes to support improvements in the social and economic circumstances of the community, such as advocating for reductions in child poverty
  • Undertaking advocacy on behalf of individual patients, such as letters about the need for safer housing
  • Adopting equitable practice design, such as flexible office hours and convenient practice location
  • Providing practical support to patients to access the federal and provincial / territorial programs for which they qualify

The health equity lens

To target the social determinants of health, such as income, employment or housing, that may be affecting your patients, health care professionals are encouraged to apply a health equity lens.

A health equity lens is a set of reflective questions that health care professionals should consider to ensure equitable health interventions are made available to patients. The Ontario Public Health Association developed a position statement on applying a heath equity lens to help guide health care professionals incorporate equitable health interventions into their practice.

Resources for health care professionals

Niagara Priority Profiles

The Niagara Priority Profiles were created as a tool to help create a clearer understanding of what priority populations here in Niagara look like. There are eleven population profiles that have been deemed significant in Niagara using demographic and health outcome data specific to priority populations acknowledged from the provincial Health Equity Impact Assessment tool.

Each profile discusses health outcomes impacting each population which can better guide daily practices. Using the Niagara Priority Profiles can support:

  • Understanding the demographic representation of the specific population of your patients
  • Considering the intersectionality of the social determinants of health that shape the needs and lived experiences of your patients
  • Understanding how health outcomes disproportionately impact certain priority populations


Tools for use in practice

More information

Resources for patients

Niagara Region

Our health equity section is a great resource with information and tools to help patients achieve health equity for themselves and their communities.

INCommunities (211)

INCommunities (211) is a free and confidential phone service that can provide information and referral services to your patient by calling 2-1-1. Each call is answered by an information and referral specialist and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.

Community Health Prosperity program

The Community Health Prosperity program helps patients across Niagara increase their health and wellness through improved access to community services. Health promoters and a financial advisor identify the needs of the patient to find out if health is affecting wealth or if wealth is affecting health. Needs include health equity, social, financial and legal. From there, health promoters help to navigate to appropriate programs and services.

Through your referral to the Community Health Prosperity program, your patients become connected at no-cost with supports, including:

  • Social assistance applications (Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program)
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Food security
  • Utility payment assistance
  • Prescription drug assistance
  • Dental care
  • Family supports
  • Education supports
  • Budgeting and financial support
  • Free income tax clinics

All patients remain under the primary care of their already rostered physician. They will have a coordinated care plan created as a client of the program which can be reviewed through Clinical Connect.

The coordinated care plan is a tool created through Health Quality Ontario. The plan is a fluid document of all community resources that have become affiliated with the patient, and the goals of the patient that each service and program are working collaboratively with the patient to achieve.

More information

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