Beyond the Exam Room: How Health Records Reflect Wider Social Conditions

Imagine experiencing stomach pain so severe you visit the hospital emergency department (ED) for help. Doctors and nurses conduct all the right tests, but they can’t identify a cause for your distress, so they give you antacids and send you home. A week later, the pain returns—and you’re back in the ED.

Now, imagine if one of those staff members asked you a simple question: “When was the last time you ate?” Your answer could reveal the true problem: painful hunger due to food insecurity, a social problem affecting 40 million Americans, according to federal estimates. Chances are, you would be a familiar face in the ED until that very basic need was met.

“We have to look at the whole person and all of their needs,” says Lori Petersen, business analyst at Alliance for Better Health, a performing provider system (PPS) in New York’s Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) program. Read more…