BERKELEY'S NEWS • SEPTEMBER 25, 2022

Study finds social needs programs reduce hospitalization rates

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SEPTEMBER 19, 2022

A UC Berkeley study published in August in The Annals of Internal Medicine found that participants in social needs management programs were less likely to be hospitalized.

Dan Brown, a Contra Costa Health Services data scientist, said the study was part of the “whole person” care program. The program is based on the idea of treating health holistically, addressing social factors as well as medical ones.

“We know that there’s these social factors that are hugely important in determining people’s medical and physical health,” Brown said. “It stands to reason that if you put together a program that helps address some of these social determinants of health, then people would be healthier.”

The relationship between social care and health is an area of growing interest, according to Amanda Brewster, a campus assistant professor of health policy and management. Brewster said there is “widespread knowledge” that social factors were a critical part of people’s outcomes.

Brewster added that the interest has prompted related studies, which have developed the field in important ways. She noted that her team’s study was significant primarily due to the size and the rigor of its methods.

“The basic contribution of the study was that we are able to test in a really rigorous way through a randomized controlled study,” Brewster said. “We were able to benefit from the strength of the randomized design, as well as the strength of a really big and diverse sample size.”

The study’s design involved randomly assigning Medicaid beneficiaries to an intervention group and comparing their health outcomes to a control group. Control group members remained eligible to be selected for future intervention, ensuring equal opportunities to access services.

Brewster said the study’s results showed an 11% decrease in hospitalization rates for the intervention group. She noted that because hospitalization can be disruptive to patients’ lives, the knowledge that social needs programs can reduce its prevalence is significant.

“We really wanted to get that set of findings out first,” Brewster said. “The next really critical thing to understand is how the intervention works.”

Brown echoed the sentiment that developing a deeper understanding is the next step. He stated the results show potential for addressing the social needs of at-risk individuals, providing evidence that social care can make a “measurable improvement” in people’s lives and reduce the need for health services.

Press coverage has largely focused on the social programs’ inability to pay for themselves — in other words, that they don’t lower health service use enough to cover their own costs, said Brown.

“Medical care doesn’t ask the question of whether or not it pays for itself, it asks whether or not it makes people healthier,”  Brown said.  “This program costs money, but it makes people healthier.”

Contact Chanyoung Chung at 

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SEPTEMBER 19, 2022


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