Dr. Megan Sandel, Children’s HeathWatch Co-Principal Investigator, wrote a blog post for the Medical-Legal Partnership.

Creating the Social Determinants of Health Vital Sign: Are We Ready?

I attended a meeting recently where someone called me an “aberration” of a doctor. Most people would be insulted; I felt complimented. I was an “aberration” because I’m a doctor who cares about how housing impacts health.

The meeting brought together leaders from various housing agencies and Regional Health and Human Services Departments to discuss how they could work together to improve health. Having spent 20 years designing healthcare and public health programs to improve housing as a way to improve health, I’ve written my own brand of “prescriptions”—and they don’t involve pills. Instead, they are for community health workers visiting families at home, for pest contractors ridding alleyways and rowhouses of mice, and for lawyers to enforce sanitary codes. Not the usual work of a doctor.

I’m regularly asked why I care about housing and my reply is always: “How can I not care about housing?” Housing is recognized as one of the most important social determinants of health. In fact, a 2002 study in Health Affairs by McInnis et. al. estimated that traditional healthcare only accounts for 10 percent of overall health, and social circumstances can account for up to 60 percent. Other studies support these numbers—for example, a 1997 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that if you were both allergic to cockroaches and had cockroaches in your home, you had a threefold increase in the risk of getting hospitalized for your next asthma attack. No amount of medication can change this risk.

Click here to read the full blog post.