Today our health care innovations are mostly focused on development of new diagnostics, therapeutics, and administrative solutions to improve health care delivery. While these solutions are important and advance every year, public health is increasingly challenged by factors that are outside what we traditionally define as the health care sector.

Historically, the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) has been used as a term to capture these important upstream, non-medical drivers of health. These factors, while believed to have the biggest impact on health outcomes, have largely been assumed to be the responsibility of the public sector and have mainly stayed out of the focus of the health care system.

Today, we are witnessing even more impactful phenomena than what SDoH was originally defined to capture, which warrants a more expansive definition. Research shows that health outcomes are not only impacted by the immediate social and environmental context of the individual but by a complex set of interconnected factors and global systems well beyond the individual's control and influence. We call these factors the Systemic Drivers of Health.

The Systemic Drivers of Health are the nested and interconnected sets of local and global factors that have significant impact on population and individual health outcomes. Systemic Drivers of Health extend beyond traditional health care (e.g. hospitals and clinics) and the individual’s immediate situation to include the behavioral, social, environmental, and structural factors that can have a direct impact on their overall health. In order to truly understand these factors, innovators need to examine the root cause drivers of our health challenges. Only once these root cause drivers are addressed will we be able to meet today’s complex health care needs and rising costs.

Read the full article about systemic drivers of health by Narges Baniasadi, Michelle de Haaff and Pedram Afshar at Stanford Social Innovation Review.