Coding From a Clipboard: Life Situation Forms

The next time you visit the doctor, you might have a different type of form to fill out.

They’re called life situation forms, and they are helping physicians get a more 360-degree view of your life—where you live, your financial situation, if you have kids, etc.—in order to figure out the best way help you heal.

According to the numbers, it’s working. A study by found a 40 percent drop in emergency room visits after Kaiser started using the forms to address their patients’ needs. “More providers are beginning to recognize the impact that social determinants have on their patients [health],” Cara James, Director of the Office of Minority Health at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a recent interview with National Public Radio.

A few years ago, federal officials created new medical codes for social determinants of health; when you see a doctor and those codes pop up on your record, it gives the provider more information about you beyond your medical history. “I find it incredibly helpful” Kaiser OB-GYN Dr. Sarah Lambert told National Public Radio. “Having it coded right there … really can give you a much better understanding as to what the patient’s going through.”

Advocates hope that this new direction in healthcare will have more long-term benefits; they hope the information can eventually steer doctors way from prescribing high-priced treatments and instead provide the basics—and the basic needs.

If you find the questions on the form to be a little nosy, remember—the answers you give can help you get assistance, such as a referral to a patient navigator, or connections to social programs. Or, best of all, a better way to feel better.

If you’re seeing a doctor for the first time, or if you want to verify your current doctor’s license, check with the Medical Board of California or go to the Department of Consumer Affair’s License Lookup web page.



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