Nonresponse to Health-Related Social Needs Screening Questions


Although clinical settings are increasingly screening for social determinants of health, essential questions about optimal screening remain. We aimed to assess primary care contexts of individuals choosing not to answer questions about health-related social needs and to compare screening question response with subsequent use of resource information.


We compared caregiver responses to an electronic survey administered during a child’s emergency department visit and through telephone follow-up 2 weeks later by responses to questions about health-related social needs (no social needs endorsed, ≥1 endorsed, none endorsed but ≥1 question not answered).


Of 146 respondents, 42 (29%) endorsed ≥1 health-related social need. Additionally, 19 (13%) endorsed no social needs but did not answer ≥1 question. Compared with those denying all social needs and those endorsing ≥1 social need, respondents who did not answer social needs screening questions reported longer duration since their child’s last primary care visit, lower perceptions of primary care, and less social support. For the 61 respondents participating in the 2-week follow-up survey, reported use of a community resource packet was 37% among those who had reported a social need, 26% among those who had denied all social needs, and 0% among those who had not answered ≥1 social needs questions.


Clinicians and systems implementing screening for health-related social risks should plan for individuals who choose not to respond to specific items and may also wish to consider strategies that do not rely on screening and disclosure, particularly in communities known to have high prevalence of social needs.

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