Determinants of Health Policy: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Alexandra Unfried

Alexandra earned her master's degree in nursing education and is currently a hospital supervisor/administrator.

Determinants of health policy are influenced by many different factors such as behavior, biology, health services, social factors, and policies. This lesson will discuss definitions and examples of health policy determinants.

Improving Community Health

Daniel is part of the public health system in Baltimore. He is working with a group of medical professionals to create a community project that revolves around improving the overall health of the people in the community. He begins by discussing health determinants with his team.

What are Determinants of Health?

Factors that determine health policies include behavior, biology, policies, social factors, and health services. Each of these factors interacts with and influences each other in different ways, which makes the determinants of health vary for each person. However, communities often have similar determinants of health due to the shared environment and resources. Four major health determinants include health status, medical care, individual characteristics, and environmental factors.

Health status is the health determinant factor that is a result of each of the other three factors. Health status includes mental, social, and physical well-being and how these aspects are impacted by health policy and the availability of disease prevention and health promotion.

Daniel is focusing his discussion on the four major health determinants which he will break down with his group to come up with ideas about how to bring the people together and improve the general health of those in the community. Daniel wants the group to analyze the components of the community to see if they can figure out what the community needs. He begins by leading a discussion about how medical care is offered to the community population.

Medical Care

Medical care is influenced differently than the other factors of health determinants. This is because it is not always accessible or affordable for everyone. It is also a factor that is sought after for health purposes and therefore has a higher demand. Medical care is driven by:

  • The need for a service, meaning that it is often required to treat or prevent illness and disease
  • The presence of the agency relationship which makes a patient dependent on a medical professional's expertise, opinion, and reimbursement
  • The differing of how payment is billed and received based on health insurance
  • The environment where resources, politics, technology, economy, and culture play a role in how medical care is offered

Medical care is influenced by need for service and how it is paid for
Medical care is influenced by the need for service and how it is paid for

Daniel's team is starting to realize how many different aspects affect medical care and health policy. One team member points out that the medical care in their community could benefit from making their options more organized, affordable, and accessible so more people will follow through with healthy goals. Daniel continues to explain other factors of health determinants.

Individual Characteristics

Individual characteristics are molded from demographics, behavior, and socioeconomic conditions which are also heavily guided by environment. For example, public health services focus on changing people's behavior such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol or drug abuse, changing diet, and increasing exercise. Let's detail further the influences of individual characteristics:

  1. Demographics is based on age, gender, race, and ethnicity, which all have an effect on health. Older people tend to have more health issues while some races are more likely to have risk factors for certain diseases.
  2. Behavior is reflective of lifestyle choices consisting of poor diet, smoking, substance abuse, unsafe driving, sexual activity, and lack of exercise which all lead to chronic diseases. Someone's job may also impact their health. For example, someone could be exposed to harmful substances in fields like coal mining or construction or have safety risks like heavy lifting.
  3. Socioeconomic conditions are made up of occupational circumstances, income, and education. People with lower income and education levels often make less informed lifestyle decisions and lack the funds to address their health regularly. Socioeconomic conditions also influence health through environmental exposures due to unsafe areas and harsh chemicals or pathogens.

Smoking is a behavior that is based on individual characteristics
Smoking is a behavior that is based on individual characteristics

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