woman at desk with face in handsThose who aren't able to keep up with those social needs are morethan twice as likely to classify their health as fair or pooras those who are more secure. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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It's not just medical care anymore.

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A third of Americans are under so much stress just trying tokeep roofs over their heads, food on the table and a reliable meansof transport available when they need it that they wouldwelcome their health care providers help.

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That's according Kaiser Permanente's Social Needs inAmerica survey, which finds that 68 percent ofAmericans have experienced at least one unmet social need in the last year, and morethan 25 percent said an unmet social need was a barrier to health;21 percent prioritized paying for food or rent over seeing a doctoror getting a medication.

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Related: How do social factors affecthealth?

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The survey asked respondents about what stood in their way inmaking sure those social needs were covered, and how that impactedtheir being able to get the health care they needed. It also askedhow they wanted doctors, nurses and other care providers to helpthem get past those barriers to care.

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“At Kaiser Permanente we think holistically about health, whichincludes medical care and other factors like access to food,transportation, and housing,” says Kaiser Permanente chairman andCEO Bernard J. Tyson. “By helping close the gap on social needs, wehave an opportunity to advance the health of communities across thecountry and safeguard everyone's right to thrive.”

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Among other findings is the fact that Americans look upon thosesocial needs as just as important as medical care; 89 percent ofrespondents said safe and stable housing is very or extremelyimportant to health and 80 percent said reliable transportation isvery or extremely important.

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Those who aren't able to keep up with those social needs aremore than twice as likely to classify their health as fair or poor(16 percent) as those who are more secure (6 percent). In addition,a third of respondents say they're stressed over social needs, with28 percent reporting that a social need kept them from getting carein the past year. Stress levels were high over getting enough foodor balanced meals—39 percent said social needs got in the way—and35 percent say they're stressed over housing.

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And 97 percent say that medical providers ought to be askingabout social needs during medical visits, with just 10 percentsaying they would feel nervous or annoyed by such questions.

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Kaiser Permanente also announced the opening of its first ThriveLocal social needs resources network in its northwest region, inwhich medical practitioners are incorporating the tool into theorganization's electronic health records system so that people withsocial needs can be connected with resources that can help to meetthem.

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“We must ensure individuals have access to the health and socialservices they need to be well,” says Bechara Choucair, M.D., chiefcommunity health officer at Kaiser Permanente. ”When weask our members if they've had to skip a meal lately, if they canafford their medications, or if they have reliable transportation,we know the answers to those questions can tell us as much abouttheir future health as their blood pressure tells us. When we canprevent negative health outcomes with access to social services, wecan make our communities healthier for the 68 million people livingthere.”

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.