ABFM Foundation, Stanford, US Census Bureau Collaboration Awarded RWJF Grant to Support Research on Using Social Determinants of Health Indices to Adjust Payments to Physicians

December 13, 2021. It is with great pleasure that we announce the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has awarded a new two-year grant to support “Testing the predicting power of social determinants of health indices on outcomes to improve Medicare payment,” a research collaboration between the American Board of Family Medicine Foundation (ABFM Foundation), the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences (Stanford PHS), and the U.S. Census Bureau. The period of the grant began on December 1, 2021 and will carry through November 30, 2023. 

Health care clinicians and public health have similarly struggled to find a reliable and low-burden process for identifying their patients and populations at increased health risk due to social factors. An aligned solution is needed so that clinical capacity, public health, and payment policy support, identify and address social needs that impact health and wellbeing. Area-based socioeconomic indices are used in other developed countries to direct social service and health care resources with the goal of improving health equity. 

While many such measures currently exist, this project addresses two tremendous current barriers for implementation – lack of validation data using individual based measures and a lack of analyses on how the use of such measures impact health equity. The American Board of Family Medicine and Stanford PHS have more than two decades of experience with research in this area, in the development of area-based measures, and in testing their predictive value in assessing social risks and their relationship to health outcomes.

The research team will access the restricted microdata within the Census Bureau’s secure environment with the goal of performing statistical analyses and releasing aggregate statistics to inform the research questions. The Census Bureau’s existing confidentiality standards ensure that no information that can identify an individual, either alone or when combined with other publicly available information, can be released. 

“This collaboration between the ABFM Foundation and Stanford’s Center for Population Health Sciences and the US Census Bureau aims to build a better way to identify people and places with poor health equity and to use this information to improve health and health care, said Bob Phillips, MD, MSPH, Executive Director of the ABFM Foundation’s Center for Professionalism & Value in Health Care, and primary investigator (PI) of the grant. “It addresses the convergence of goals to improve health equity and fairly adjust medical payments for complexity.”

Stanford PI David H. Rehkopf, ScD, MPH adds, “This project is exciting because it builds on a lot of deep social science research in a way that has very far reaching implications for clinical care and reimbursement. The questions we are addressing have come about through collaborating with ABFM, and putting our epidemiologic, data science and data management expertise to a project with immediate practical applications for health equity."

Support for this release was provided in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.


The primary purpose of the ABFM Foundation is to support the American Board of Family Medicine through education and research efforts.

Founded in 2015, the Stanford Center for Population Health Sciences mission is to improve the health of populations by bringing together diverse disciplines and data to understand and address social, environmental, behavioral, and biological factors on both a domestic and global scale.

The mission of the United States Census Bureau is to serve as the nation's leading provider of quality data about its people and economy.