Health Care's Blind Side: Unmet Social Needs Leading to Worse Health

3 in 4 physicians wish health care system would pay to connect patients to services that address social needs

Dec 08, 2011, 09:00 ET from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

PRINCETON, N.J., Dec. 8, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- In a new, national survey, physicians say unmet social needs — like access to nutritious food, transportation assistance and housing assistance — are leading to worse health for all Americans.

As our nation grapples with increasing poverty, joblessness and homelessness, these findings provide new insights into what it actually takes for Americans to get and stay healthy.

"America's physicians understand that our health is largely determined by forces outside of the doctor's office. Housing, employment, income and education are key factors that shape our health, especially for the most vulnerable among us," said Jane Lowe, team director for the Vulnerable Populations portfolio of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Physicians are sending a clear message: The health care system cannot continue to overlook social needs if we want to improve health in this country."

This study was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation between September 16 and October 13, 2011 among 1,000 physicians, of which 690 were primary care physicians and 310 were pediatricians. Key findings from the survey include:

  • 4 in 5 physicians surveyed (85%) say unmet social needs are directly leading to worse health for all Americans.
  • 4 in 5 physicians surveyed (85%) say patients' social needs are as important to address as their medical conditions. This is especially true for physicians (over 9 in 10, or 95%) serving patients in low-income, urban communities. 
  • 3 in 4 physicians surveyed (76%) wish the health care system would cover the costs associated with connecting patients to services that meet their social needs if a physician deems it important for their overall health.
  • Only 1 in 5 of physicians surveyed (20%) feel confident or very confident in their ability to address their patients' unmet social needs.
  • Physicians surveyed reported that if they had the power to write prescriptions to address social needs, these would represent 1 out of every 7 prescriptions they write — or an average of 26 additional prescriptions per week.

Download the survey findings and recommendations.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable and timely change. For nearly 40 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.


Contact: Kelly Osmundson, 415-901-0111,


SOURCE Robert Wood Johnson Foundation