Understanding Social Determinants of Health: Impacts on Individual Health and Person-Centered Care


Health is not solely determined by medical treatment or genetics; it is profoundly influenced by various social factors. These social determinants of health play a pivotal role in shaping an individual’s well-being and the provision of person-centered care. This essay aims to identify three crucial social determinants of health and explore their impact on individual health and person-centered care. Additionally, the essay will propose a holistic approach to assess how social determinants influence an individual’s health, and how the Synergy Model can aid MSN-prepared nurses in assessing health literacy and the impact of social determinants.

Social Determinants of Health

 Socioeconomic Status: Socioeconomic status (SES) encompasses a person’s income, education level, and occupational status, and it significantly affects health outcomes. Individuals from lower SES backgrounds often face limited access to quality healthcare, nutritious food, safe housing, and education opportunities. The stress of financial insecurity and lack of resources can lead to adverse health effects, such as chronic diseases, mental health issues, and reduced life expectancy (Garg et al., 2018). Moreover, lower SES individuals may struggle to afford medications and treatments, leading to poorer health management.

 Social Support and Networks: Social support and networks refer to the availability of emotional, informational, and instrumental aid from family, friends, and the community. Having strong social connections can positively impact an individual’s health by reducing stress levels and promoting healthy behaviors. Social isolation, on the other hand, can lead to loneliness and depression, increasing the risk of various health problems, including cardiovascular diseases and compromised immune function (Berkman et al., 2019). Person-centered care should focus on fostering and utilizing existing social support systems to improve health outcomes and well-being.

Environmental Factors: Environmental determinants, including physical and social aspects of one’s surroundings, play a crucial role in health. Exposure to pollutants, limited access to green spaces, and unsafe neighborhoods can negatively affect health outcomes. Additionally, living in areas with inadequate healthcare facilities and limited resources can lead to disparities in health and exacerbate existing health conditions (Tonne & Tarkiainen, 2021). A person-centered approach must consider the influence of environmental factors and advocate for healthier environments through policy and community engagement.

Impact on Individual Health and Person-Centered Care

Impact on Individual Health: The social determinants of health exert a significant influence on an individual’s health and well-being. People from disadvantaged backgrounds with limited access to resources may face higher rates of chronic diseases, mental health disorders, and reduced life expectancy. Conversely, individuals with strong social support networks and access to better living conditions may experience improved health outcomes and a higher quality of life. The impact of social determinants extends beyond physical health, affecting mental health, social well-being, and overall life satisfaction.

Impact on Person-Centered Care: Person-centered care is a holistic and individualized approach that takes into account an individual’s unique needs, preferences, and social context. Understanding the social determinants of health is essential for delivering effective person-centered care. Healthcare professionals need to consider not only the medical aspect of a person’s health but also their social circumstances, including SES, social support, and environment. By addressing social determinants, healthcare providers can tailor interventions to promote better health outcomes and enhance the overall care experience.

Holistic Approach to Assessing Social Determinants

A holistic approach to assessing social determinants involves comprehensive and systematic evaluations that encompass various aspects of an individual’s life. Some strategies to determine how social determinants influence health include:

Conducting Social History Interviews

Healthcare providers can initiate social history interviews to gain insight into an individual’s social background, living conditions, and support systems. These interviews can help identify potential barriers to accessing healthcare and resources, as well as highlight existing strengths that can aid in promoting better health outcomes.

 Utilizing Social Risk Screening Tools

Using standardized social risk screening tools can assist healthcare professionals in identifying patients at risk due to social determinants. These tools can help target interventions and resources to those who need them the most, ensuring a person-centered approach to care.

Analyzing Local Community Data

Analyzing community-level data can provide valuable information about the social determinants prevalent in a specific region. Understanding the unique challenges faced by the community can guide healthcare providers in tailoring interventions and advocacy efforts to address these issues effectively.

Three Questions for Assessing Social Determinants

To assess social determinants effectively, healthcare providers can ask the following questions:

 What is your current living situation?

This question helps understand an individual’s housing conditions, safety of the neighborhood, and access to essential resources, all of which can significantly impact health.

 Do you have a reliable support system?

By inquiring about social support and networks, healthcare providers can identify potential sources of support or isolation, which can impact mental health and well-being.

Are there any financial challenges that affect your ability to access healthcare and resources?

This question can help identify financial barriers to healthcare, medication adherence, and the overall ability to manage chronic conditions.

Synergy Model: Collaboration and Assessment

The Synergy Model, developed by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, focuses on matching a patient’s needs with a nurse’s competencies to achieve optimal outcomes. In the context of assessing health literacy and the impact of social determinants, the Synergy Model offers a collaborative framework for MSN-prepared nurses.

The model emphasizes the importance of communication, coordination, and collaboration between nurses and patients. For instance, when addressing health literacy, nurses can use plain language and visual aids to improve patient understanding. Moreover, by collaborating with individuals, nurses can identify their unique social determinants and design tailored care plans that consider the impact of these determinants on health.


Social determinants of health play a significant role in shaping individual health outcomes and the effectiveness of person-centered care. Socioeconomic status, social support, and environmental factors profoundly impact health, making it crucial for healthcare providers to assess and address these determinants. Utilizing a holistic approach and tools like the Synergy Model, MSN-prepared nurses can collaborate with individuals to understand their social context, health literacy, and unique needs, ensuring the delivery of effective, person-centered care.


Berkman, L. F., et al. (2019). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50(1_suppl), S54-S66.

Garg, A., et al. (2018). The role of socio-economic factors in black-white health inequities across the life course: Point-in-time measures, long-term exposures, and differential health returns. SSM – Population Health, 5, 216-225.

Tonne, C., & Tarkiainen, L. (2021). Environmental and social determinants of health: A review of evidence. World Health Organization. https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and health/pages/news/news/2021/9/environmental-and-social-determinants-of-health-a-review-of-evidence

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. (2018). The Synergy Model for Patient Care. AACN Advanced Critical Care, 29(3), 220-232.