Social Determinants of Health vs. Social Drivers of Health: Are They the Same?

If you’ve been in the health care space for any time, you aren’t new to the term social determinants of health (SDOH). But we are shifting our language, and with good reason. 

Join us in exploring and explaining our reasoning behind moving to using the term social drivers of health instead, and why you should too. 


Social Determinants of Health Definition 

The definition of social determinants of health, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , is the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affects a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” These are broken into 5 different categories: economic stability, education access & quality, health care access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context.  

Although the inherent definition and categories aren’t changing, we are updating the way we speak about SDOH.  


Social Determinants of Health vs. Social Drivers of Health 

Have you ever heard the phrase “it’s not what you said, it’s how you made them feel?” That’s exactly the philosophy involved in identifying the difference real difference between social determinants of health vs. social drivers of health.

Health Affairs first posted about this, but when we use the word "determinant," we insinuate that we have relegated people to a definite outcome. But in reality, we are merely using this data and background to help us better understand our patient. By using the word "driver" instead, we are implying that there are things that we in the health care community and beyond can do to help course correct and potentially overcome any setbacks. 

Just as science changes for the better, we are improving our dialog to better match the true meaning behind what we’re saying. We continually aim to keep our patients at the center of everything we do, and that includes pivoting to a better approach when it arises. 


How to Make the Switch the Social Drivers of Health 

Are you left worried you’ll mess up and use determinants still? It’s okay! Any change takes time to implement. Just try to remind yourself what the real definition of social drivers of health is portraying, and it’ll come easier.  

Want to dive deeper into social drivers of health? We have a brand new CLIC hub course covering this vital topic and how to handle SDOH more appropriately in your hospital. Sign up today to start improving the way you think about SDOH and how you can implement language that helps rather than hinders a patient’s experience.