Community health workers improve access to primary care and outcomes after discharge among high-risk populations, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania split 446 participants from two urban, academically affiliated hospitals into two groups--one assisted by community health workers and one control group. During hospital admission, community health workers helped patients by creating individualized action plans for achieving recovery goals and providing support for those goals for at least two weeks.
Patients aided by community health workers were more likely to obtain post-hospital primary care and report high-quality discharge communication. The test group also showed greater improvements in mental health and patient activation, although there was little difference between the two groups when it came to physical health, satisfaction with medical care and medication adherence. Both groups saw the same ratio of at least one 30-day readmission, but patients who worked with community health workers were less likely to have multiple 30-readmissions, according to the study.
Community health workers address some of the root causes of poor health, lead study author Shreya Kangovi, M.D., said in a statement from the university. "They [community health workers] come from within high-risk communities, can relate to patients, are able to help breach potential breakdowns in communication between patients and their care providers, and address the socioeconomic and behavioral factors that affect health," Kangovi said.
The healthcare industry and states recently pushed to increase community health workers' presence in the U.S., which has an estimated 38,000 community health workers, FierceHealthcare previously reported. However, there is no uniform training or accreditation process and their responsibilities vary by state.