Assessing Patient and Community-Level Social Factors; The Synergistic Effect of Social Needs and Social Determinants of Health on Healthcare Utilization at a Multilevel Academic Healthcare System

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We investigated the role of both individual-level social needs and community-level social determinants of health (SDOH) in explaining emergency department (ED) utilization rates. We also assessed the potential synergies between the two levels of analysis and their combined effect on patterns of ED visits. We extracted electronic health record (EHR) data between July 2016 and June 2020 for 1,308,598 unique Maryland residents who received care at Johns Hopkins Health System, of which 28,937 (2.2%) patients had at least one documented social need. There was a negative correlation between median household income in a neighborhood with having a social need such as financial resource strain, food insecurity, and residential instability (correlation coefficient: -0.05, -0.01, and − 0.06, p = 0, respectively). In a multilevel model with random effects after adjusting for other factors, living in a more disadvantaged neighborhood was found to be significantly associated with ED utilization statewide and within Baltimore City (OR: 1.005, 95% CI: 1.003–1.007 and 1.020, 95% CI: 1.017–1.022, respectively). However, individual-level social needs appeared to enhance the statewide effect of living in a more disadvantaged neighborhood with the OR for the interaction term between social needs and SDOH being larger, and more positive, than SDOH alone (OR: 1.012, 95% CI: 1.011–1.014). No such moderation was found in Baltimore City. To our knowledge, this study is one of the first attempts by a major academic healthcare system to assess the combined impact of patient-level social needs in association with community-level SDOH on healthcare utilization and can serve as a baseline for future studies using EHR data linked to population-level data to assess such synergistic association.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number95
JournalJournal of medical systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Correlation
  • Emergency Department Visit
  • Social Determinants of Health
  • Social Needs
  • Synergistic effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Information Systems
  • Health Informatics
  • Health Information Management

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