After our basic needs are met by things like food, water, and shelter, the next most important needs are social. Every person wants to feel a sense of belonging and to be connected to those around them. Having family or social support is a social determinant of health (SDOH) that impacts an individual's health outcomes. Family and social support has an impact on an individual’s health outcomes, a child’s development, self care, and more.
What is family and social support?
Family and social support means having a supportive network of family and friends to rely on in times of difficulties. Having a strong relationship with the people around you helps create a sense of belonging and helps meet a person’s social needs. Social support also helps increase your quality of life.
Family and social support’s impact on health outcomes
Studies show that family and social support is necessary for maintaining good health. A lack of a support system can lead to social isolation which can have a negative impact on your mental health. People experiencing social isolation are at higher risk for alcohol or drug misuse, depression, stress, and suicide. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an unprecedented amount of social isolation due to social distancing. Depression rates have tripled for adults, and the number of overdose related deaths and the opioid crisis has been exacerbated by the social isolation and loneliness connected to COVID-19.
Family and social support is a SDOH that is taken into consideration by physicians and hospital case managers when determining the best treatment for a patient or their hospital discharge plan. Individuals with a lack of family support may be more likely to be readmitted to the hospital. They also may need to be discharged to a different facility, such as a nursing home or a behavioral health center, after leaving the hospital. These are all factors that must be taken into consideration and can sometimes be difficult to screen for, but artificial intelligence is helping uncover insights that can be used by doctors and nurses to improve the patient care journey.
Impact on child development
Childhood experiences have a long term effect on a person’s emotional development and overall health. Having a supportive family and good relationships with their peers, set children up for success later in life. Children need a positive and stable environment. They also have a lot to learn, so having meaningful family support helps them understand accountability, trust, and decision making. Kids rely on their parents for everything, from food to shelter to clothing to unconditional love. Beyond their basic needs, children usually model their beliefs and behavior after what they observe from their parents.
Impact on self care
The people you surround yourself also impact how you take care of yourself. Having a good support system makes you more likely to make healthier decisions in terms of diet, exercise, and drug use. On the other end of the spectrum, a bad support system can make you more likely to face situations of peer pressure when it comes to drugs and alcohol or other dangerous health decisions. People with family and social support are also able to handle stress easier, because they have people to turn to in difficult situations.
Impact on motivation and goals
Having supportive family and friends increases motivation and makes it easier for people to achieve their goals. When you have someone there to cheer you on as you work through difficult times, the hardships seem less intense. People also make connections by having shared goals. Finding a support system looking to achieve the same things as you are is another way to help navigate a tough situation.
How technology helps identify and address social isolation
The importance of having the support of friends and family is undeniable, however sometimes it is difficult to determine where gaps are in addressing or identifying a lack of support. In certain situations a patient may be unwilling to answer questions verbally about social issues that they may be facing. Luckily, technology is able to help. With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots can be used to ask patients questions related to their social support network. This AI tool can scale to be used to serve more people than traditional teams alone, reducing manual effort. Natural language processing (NLP) and AI are great tools that assist doctors. Pieces Predict is a cloud-based software that, with the help of NLP and AI, hospitals can use to read clinical notes and extract valuable information about SDOH. This assists clinicians in being able to more easily recognize socially-vulnerable patients and better allocate resources to those who need it most.
When an individual is recognized as having social needs, community organizations are there to help. Organizations in the community provide various services and resources to individuals who find themselves experiencing social isolation. Pieces Connect is a cloud-based case management software and referral platform that allows healthcare professionals and community organizations to easily stay connected and make referrals. It helps reduce manual efforts of case workers and has an 82% closed loop referral rate, which means that information was provided from the organization about the outcome of the referral.
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