Social factors have 80% impact on health, UT Health San Antonio says

Other problems in people’s lives can affect health outcomes

SAN ANTONIO – More than 200 new doctors beginning their residencies at UT Health San Antonio learned an important principle Tuesday that’s not in the medical books.

“Physicians have power, and our power is that we have an opportunity to show people compassion,” said Averi White, M.D., chief resident of quality and safety for the Department of Internal Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

White is a third-year resident who treats patients at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital.

She was among those who spoke at an annual event focusing on the social determinants of health, believed to be one of only two such programs in the nation.

Woodson “Scott” Jones, M.D., vice dean of graduate medical education for the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, said it is important for young doctors to realize non-medical factors can impact 80% of their patient’s health.

Jones said some of those factors include education, language, transportation, food insecurity, limited incomes, even zip codes.

Doctors are under pressure with so many patients to see in a relatively short amount of time, while making sure all their medical needs are addressed.

“Yet, if you’re not addressing the 80%, we’re doing them a disfavor,” Jones said.

He said often it’s a matter of asking the right questions such as, “Where are we discharging you to when I want you to get more exercise? Is your neighborhood safe? When I want you to eat a healthier diet, do you have healthy food options that you can get to? Do you have grocery stores that have fresh fruit in your neighborhood? Do you have family support?”

White said she learned an important lesson as a child after a doctor bluntly told her mother that her brother had been born with Down Syndrome.

“It’s important to me to choose my words wisely because I know that my words are the ones that they may remember,” White said.

White said she also remembers a quote by Hippocrates, the Greek physician considered the father of modern medicine, who said, “Where the art of medicine is loved, there’s also a love for humanity.”

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.