DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.30228 ISSN:

Screening for Health-Related Social Needs and Collaboration With External Partners Among US Hospitals

Jason J. Ashe, Matthew C. Baker, Carla S. Alvarado, Philip M. Alberti
  • General Medicine


In recent years, hospitals and health systems have reported increasing rates of screening for patients’ individual and community social needs, but few studies have explored the national landscape of screening and interventions directed at addressing health-related social needs (HRSNs) and social determinants of health (SDOH).


To evaluate the associations of hospital characteristics and area-level socioeconomic indicators to quantify the presence and intensity of hospitals’ screening practices, interventions, and collaborative external partnerships that seek to measure and ameliorate patients’ HRSNs and SDOH.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This cross-sectional study used national data from the American Hospital Association Annual Survey Database for fiscal year 2020. General-service, acute-care, nonfederal hospitals were included in the study’s final sample, representing nationally diverse hospital settings. Data were analyzed from July 2022 to February 2023.


Organizational characteristics and area-level socioeconomic indicators.

Main Outcomes and Measures

The outcomes of interest were hospital-reported patient screening of and strategies to address 8 HRSNs and 14 external partnership types to address SDOH. Composite scores for screening practices and external partnership types were calculated, and ordinary least-square regression analyses tested associations of organizational characteristics with outcome measures.


Of 2858 US hospital respondents (response rate, 67.0%), most hospitals (79.2%; 95% CI, 77.7%-80.7%) reported screening patients for at least 1 HRSN, with food insecurity or hunger needs (66.1%; 95% CI, 64.3%-67.8%) and interpersonal violence (66.4%; 95% CI, 64.7%-68.1%) being the most commonly screened social needs. Most hospitals (79.4%; 95% CI, 66.3%-69.7%) reported having strategies and programs to address patients’ HRSNs; notably, most hospitals (52.8%; 95% CI, 51.0%-54.5%) had interventions for transportation barriers. Hospitals reported a mean of 4.03 (95% CI, 3.85-4.20) external partnership types to address SDOH and 5.69 (5.50-5.88) partnership types to address HRSNs, with local or state public health departments and health care practitioners outside of the health system being the most common. Hospitals with accountable care contracts (ACCs) and bundled payment programs (BPPs) reported higher screening practices (ACC: β = 1.03; SE = 0.13; BPP: β = 0.72; SE = 0.14), interventions (ACC: β = 1.45; SE = 0.12; BPP: β = 0.61; SE = 0.13), and external partnership types to address HRSNs (ACC: β = 2.07; SE = 0.23; BPP: β = 1.47; SE = 0.24) and SDOH (ACC: β = 2.64; SE = 0.20; BPP: β = 1.57; SE = 0.21). Compared with nonteaching, government-owned, and for-profit hospitals, teaching and nonprofit hospitals were also more likely to report more HRSN-directed activities. Patterns based on geographic and area-level socioeconomic indicators did not emerge.

Conclusions and Relevance

This cross-sectional study found that most US hospitals were screening patients for multiple HRSNs. Active participation in value-based care, teaching hospital status, and nonprofit status were the characteristics most consistently associated with greater overall screening activities and number of related partnership types. These results support previously posited associations about which types of hospitals were leading screening uptake and reinforce understanding of the role of hospital incentives in supporting health equity efforts.

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