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Which of the following has more impact on your health?
A) Your genetics
B) Your diet
C) Your address

Answer A makes a lot of sense. But when it comes to predicting your likelihood of getting sick, ZIP codes can be more important than DNA codes. The place where you live determines your access to healthy food, reliable transportation, stable employment, quality education and more—elements called "social determinants" that shape both immediate wellbeing and long-term life expectancy.

Across the country, systems like Memorial Healthcare System are expanding beyond their traditional roles and working to improve the health of their communities by addressing their social needs. Here are some of the most innovative solutions in each area.

Health starts at home
The lack of a healthy home can lead to conditions from asthma to anxiety: People who experience homelessness are more likely to suffer from severe mental or physical illnesses; families who forgo healthy food or medicine to pay for housing can have poor health outcomes; unsafe conditions like the presence of lead can trigger or worsen health issues. Hospitals are addressing these issues by initiating community outreach to learn about residents' health priorities, building onsite health services in low-income developments, offering a care coordinator to educate residents and help them access services and encouraging housing developers to include elements like access to parks and bike lanes, which can promote a healthy lifestyle. 

Closing the transportation gap
Affordable and appropriate transportation options are essential to healthy communities. Yet, each year more than 3 million Americans don’t have access to medical services due to overwhelming transportation issues. Whether it’s lack of a car, transportation costs or long commutes to doctors’ offices, many people cancel or reschedule their medical visits at the last minute, often proving detrimental to their health. Fortunately, hospitals are striving to make access to care easier by providing free shuttle vans to transport ill and elderly patients to and from medical appointments and developing partnerships with ridesharing companies to provide medical transport services at no cost for patients.

Food: the new doctor’s prescription
We all know that fruits and vegetables are essential for good health and has warranted doctor’s recommendation for years. Yet the truth remains - if patients have limited access to healthy food or can’t afford it, then they can’t get it. To increase access to nutritious foods and improve health care outcomes, hospitals now offer on-site food pantries for referred patients, healthy meals to children in clinics and campuses, medically tailored meals to patients that have been recently discharged and food “prescriptions” which can be redeemed for fresh fruits and vegetables in grocery stores and farmers’ markets to other patients.

Connecting students with care
Students who don’t receive medical care during each stage of their educational years are more likely to not perform well in school, reducing the chances to graduate from high school. To ensure children stay healthy and stay in school, hospitals are having health care providers based in local school-based health centers, using telemedicine to reduce school absences by connecting schools and pediatricians, employing registered nurses at public schools and even having program focuses on asthma management, which is a leading cause of absenteeism. As a result, there are no delays in treatment or detriments to students’ education due to missing school days.

Exploring the communities they serve
When hospitals fail in looking beyond the walls of their institutions it’s hard for them to deploy their resources to tackle more preventive and upstream issues in their communities. Fortunately, a number of essential hospitals are stepping in and looking at the big picture to find out how societal conditions affect the health of their patient populations. Memorial Healthcare System is an example of an institution focusing on the health of specific populations. By identifying patients' common conditions and lifestyle factors, they are connecting them to suitable programs in South Florida so they can receive help to manage their social issues and focus on their wellbeing.

At Memorial Healthcare System, they are focused on connecting people to the right resources to build a healthier South Florida community one community at a time. Visit for more information on how you can better manage your health.

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