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Documenting social determinants of health-related clinical activities using standardized medical vocabularies.



Growing recognition that health is shaped by social and economic circumstances has resulted in a rapidly expanding set of clinical activities related to identifying, diagnosing, and intervening around patients' social risks in the context of health care delivery. The objective of this exploratory analysis was to identify existing documentation tools in common US medical coding systems reflecting these emerging clinical practices to improve patients' social health.

Materials and methods

We identified 20 social determinants of health (SDH)-related domains used in 6 published social health assessment tools. We then used medical vocabulary search engines to conduct three independent searches for codes related to these 20 domains included in common medical coding systems (LOINC, SNOMED CT, ICD-10-CM, and CPT). Each of the 3 searches focused on one of three clinical activities: Screening, Assessment/Diagnosis, and Treatment/Intervention.


We found at least 1 social Screening code for 18 of the 20 SDH domains, 686 social risk Assessment/Diagnosis codes, and 243 Treatment/Intervention codes. Fourteen SDH domains (70%) had codes across all 3 clinical activity areas.


Our exploratory analysis revealed 1095 existing codes in common medical coding vocabularies that can facilitate documentation of social health-related clinical activities. Despite a large absolute number of codes, there are addressable gaps in the capacity of current medical vocabularies to document specific social risk factor screening, diagnosis, and interventions activities.


Findings from this analysis should help inform efforts both to develop a comprehensive set of SDH codes and ultimately to improve documentation of SDH-related activities in clinical settings.

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