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Over the past two decades, there has been an increasing recognition of the role that the social determinants of health (SDoH) – the conditions in which people live, play, learn, and work – have in shaping the health of individuals and populations. The past two decades have also seen an unprecedented expansion of digital technologies that allow for the collection of more granular data on individual and population health. While there have been changes in the health sector in the ways that health data is generated, stored, and used, the growth in these two fields has largely not overlapped – and expanding access to broader datasets on the SDoH has not been prioritized.

Rabin Martin was the former Secretariat of the Commission on Health Determinants, Data, and Decision-Making (3-D Commission), an initiative launched in 2019 by the Rockefeller Foundation and Boston University School of Public Health to focus on the need to merge insights from the fields of social determinants and data science. Released in April 2020, the 3-D Commission’s final report explores the key social and economic drivers that influence health outcomes and illustrates how data on the social determinants of health (SDoH) can be integrated into decision-making processes that affect population health. The findings are centered around the need to consider the full spectrum of factors, barriers and opportunities for using data on determinants, and to use those data more systematically to inform policies and practices aimed at improving health. To support the translation of these findings into action, the 3-D Commission lays out a series of principles and recommendations for scholars, practitioners, and policymakers who are concerned with promoting the health of populations.

While awareness is growing about the importance of cross-sector, evidence-based approaches to health decision making,” notes Jeff Sturchio, Rabin Martin Senior Advisor, and a 3-D Commissioner, “a framework with key implementation considerations, such as the one we offer in the 3-D Commission final report, is essential. Our framework and findings also serve to underscore the importance of key issues such as political will, technical capacity, and community engagement in ensuring that recommendations can be translated into concrete actions.

The 3-D Commission argued that each of these three pragmatic areas – political will, technical capacity, and community engagement – is critical to supporting the development of evidence-driven policies and programs that improve population health in a sustained and equitable manner. The achievement of a healthier world aligned with the values that underpin the 3-D Commission’s principles and recommendations –health equity, accountability, honoring local context and community experiences, a broad understanding of data, and a shared culture of data-informed decision-making – will require a steadfast commitment on the part of all stakeholders, supported by forward-looking leadership and unflagging advocacy.

You can read the full report here.

Rabin Martin

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