What are social determinants of health?

Defined by the World Health Organization as:

“the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age.”

The primary purpose of the entire health care industry—doctors and nurses, hospitals, walk-in clinics, insurance companies, and others—is to make sure people stay healthy, and to provide the best possible care when they are not.

But staying healthy isn’t just a matter of seeing our doctor regularly and taking the right medications. Our health is also determined by how we live: what we eat, how much we exercise, even where we live and the extent of our local support systems.

These factors are collectively known as social determinants of health (sdoh) and include:

  • Education access and quality
  • Neighborhood and physical environment
  • Economic stability
  • Community and social context
  • Health care access and quality

Efforts to improve health outcomes have historically focused on medical interventions. However, health care systems increasingly recognize that addressing social determinants of health is just as critical to overcoming health disparities and improving care outcomes for all.

How this impacts our communities

Better social integration improves the chance of survival by 50%.4

illustration of diverse people talking

What Priority Health is doing

At Priority Health we recognize the vital role we play in improving health and health care in Michigan, and we understand that addressing social determinants of health is key for achieving health equity. As the largest nonprofit health care plan in the state, we are in a unique position to drive real change in the communities we serve.

As part of our efforts to provide the highest standard of health care, we are focused on the following strategies:

  • Addressing the social needs of individuals and communities
  • Advancing health-promoting organizational and governmental policies and practices
  • Reforming institutional policies and practices to transform the drivers of the community conditions that shape the social needs of individuals and communities

In addition to our programs that help to promote health equity, our data-driven approach to capturing and analyzing key member information around social determinants of health allows for us to quickly meet member needs and make necessary referrals. Whether it is through SDoH-based provider incentives that help gather crucial member information, or tracking the social vulnerability index (SVI) and area deprivation index (ADI) in certain communities, our team relies on data when implementing new programs or initiatives.

To learn more, download our report: Health Equity and Social Determinants of Health: Priority Health's Bold Approach to Improving the Health of Michigan Communities.

Download report

Our programs

We’re addressing the most critical social determinants of health by driving high-value care through effective and innovative programs.

Our mission to remove barriers for health and wellness

We're committed to removing barriers to health and wellness through corporate sponsorships, philanthropy, employee volunteer efforts, and innovative programs— and we call it Priority Health for Good.

Community relations

Priority Health Champions holding signs

In the news

Priority Health team members have spoken with several different media outlets about our unique programs and offerings that directly address health inequitities and social determinants of health. Check out some of the stories below to learn more.

Group of young people hiking

Social Determinants of Health 101

There are many environmental and societal factors that have significant impacts on our health.

Read the article


1 Zonderman et al. (2016) “Race & Poverty Status as a Risk for Overall Mortality in Community Dwelling Middle-aged Adults” JAMA Int. Med

2 Ibid

3 Moser et al. (1984) “Unemployment and Mortality in the OPCS Longitudinal Study” Lancet

4 Holt-Lunstad et al. (2010) “Social Relationships & Mortality” Plos Med 3

5 Journal of Internal Medicine