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Health Related Social Needs – HRSN – refer to the needs that develop after a person becomes sick, or suffers from a chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or some kind of physical disability such as bone fractures in an accident. HRSN is being studied as problem area and measures are being called for to tackle these issues.
These needs can encompass various aspects and may include financial, physical, and emotional support needs.
Serious illnesses can lead to significant financial burdens due to medical expenses, including hospital bills, medications, treatments, and rehabilitation costs. Loss of income due to inability to work during illness exacerbates these financial challenges, leading to stress and economic strain for individuals and their families. A tiny percentage of our population carries medical insurance, and even that may not cover the entire treatment cost. Lower cadre employees suffer more because social security institution provides limited coverage. Government hospitals are a big relief but even there, the patient has to spend lot of money from their own pocket.
The patients suffer both ways: one, the money is spent constantly for treatment eating up savings if there are any or piling debts; two, the income may stop due to stoppage of work. Government and corporate employees may have the provision of leaves, but the bulk of other workers lose income as soon as they fall sick.
Providing access to financial aid, insurance support, or assistance with medical bills and medication costs can alleviate financial burdens for patients and their families. Vietnam has already covered their entire population with medical insurance and provides treatment to all patients at government hospitals. We are doing none of these things. Philanthropists work with some patients to provide medicines but there is no organized system to arrange financial support.
Physical Support Needs
Illnesses or disabilities may result in physical limitations that require support with activities of daily living (ADLs), mobility assistance, specialized medical equipment, or home modifications for accessibility. These needs often call for additional care and support from caregivers or healthcare professionals.
Our society has developed another serious issue, which is about old parents whose children are living abroad. These people have finances to get treatment, but they do not have the physical support when they fall sick or become disabled due to chronic illnesses, as benign as arthritis which limits movement. They are usually unable to drive despite having a car and are dependent on paid drivers.
Another area of physical support needs is when a family member remains sick for extended period and the caregiver are one or two. Extended caregiving without break can lead to caregiving fatigue which reduces the quality of caregiving.
We have a serious dearth of paid professional caregivers, and if at all they are available, they cost a fortune which cannot be afforded by majority. Offering care management and navigation services to help patients access healthcare resources, understand their treatment plans, and coordinate various aspects of their care can improve health outcomes.
Emotional and Psychological Support Needs
Dealing with a serious illness can take a toll on an individual’s mental health. Patients may require emotional support, counseling, or access to mental health services to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, or the emotional impact of their illness and its implications for their life and relationships.
Fortunately, we still have a social structure where emotional support is available to many. However, psychological support is in short supply because psychological counseling is not recognized as a specialty, and because psychological counseling takes time to produce results. We rather go to a psychiatrist who will prescribe few drugs and the patient will feel better. We also do not have support groups and forums where people can share problems and get advice, counseling, and encouragement. Integrating social workers into healthcare teams can help address emotional, psychological, and social needs. Social workers can provide counseling, emotional support, and connect patients with community resources and support networks.
Social Support and Care Coordination
Patients might need assistance navigating the healthcare system, understanding their diagnosis and treatment options, scheduling appointments, and coordinating care among various healthcare providers. This support can be especially crucial for patients with complex health conditions.
As pointed out above, there is an increasing number of affording old age people who need several kinds of support. Old age does bring various kinds of chronic conditions which lead to relative or serious disability. Creating or facilitating support groups and community networks for patients and caregivers can offer emotional support, encouragement, and shared experiences, fostering a sense of belonging and understanding. Volunteers can play a great role in this. Students and young people should be encouraged to devote some time on daily/weekly basis for such work.
Transportation and Logistics
Some patients face challenges in accessing healthcare facilities due to transportation issues, particularly if they live in remote areas or lack reliable transportation. This can hinder their ability to receive timely and necessary medical care. This is a serious problem because our transportation conditions are not good. Public transport is scarce and private transport is expensive. Rescue 1122 is doing great work, but they are quite limited and for the last several years, their funding was severely restricted. Private ambulances are big business and so are rental cars and taxis. Implementing transportation services or programs that assist patients in reaching healthcare facilities for appointments and treatments can help overcome logistical barriers. It is not easy to do outside of government because it needs huge amount of funding which can only be provided by the governments.
Recognizing and addressing these Health Related Social Needs after an individual becomes sick is crucial for providing holistic care, improving health outcomes, and enhancing the overall well-being of patients facing health challenges. A patient-centered approach that integrates medical and social support is essential for addressing these multifaceted needs effectively.Concluded.