Integrating Community Health Workers’ Dual Clinic-Community Role in Safety-Net Primary Care: Implementation Lessons from a Pragmatic Diabetes-Prevention Trial

Apr 01, 2024 | Gore

BACKGROUND: Over a third of US adults carry a diagnosis of prediabetes, 70% of whom may progress to type 2 diabetes mellitus (“diabetes”). Community health workers (CHWs) can help patients undertake healthy behavior to prevent diabetes. However, there is limited guidance to integrate CHWs in primary care, specifically to address CHWs’ dual clinic-based and community-oriented role. OBJECTIVE: Using evidence from CHWs’ adaptations of a diabetes-prevention intervention in safety-net hospitals in New York City, we examine the nature, intent, and possible consequences of CHWs’ actions on program fidelity. We propose strategies for integrating CHWs in primary care. DESIGN: Case study drawing on the Model for Adaptation Design and Impact (MADI) to analyze CHWs’ actions during implementation of CHORD (Community Health Outreach to Reduce Diabetes), a cluster-randomized pragmatic trial (2017-2022) at Manhattan VA and Bellevue Hospital. PARTICIPANTS: CHWs and clinicians in the CHORD study, with a focus in this analysis on CHWs. APPROACH: Semi-structured interviews and focus group discussion with CHWs (n=4); semi-structured interviews with clinicians (n=17). Interpretivist approach to explain CHWs’ adaptations using a mix of inductive and deductive analysis. KEY RESULTS: CHWs’ adaptations extended the intervention in three ways: by extending social assistance, healthcare access, and operational tasks. The adaptations were intended to improve fit, reach, and retention, but likely had ripple effects on implementation outcomes. CHWs’ focus on patients’ complex social needs could divert them from judiciously managing their caseload. CONCLUSIONS: CHWs’ community knowledge can support patient engagement, but overextension of social assistance may detract from protocolized health-coaching goals. CHW programs in primary care should explicitly delineate CHWs’ non-health support to patients, include multiprofessional teams or partnerships with community-based organizations, establish formal communication between CHWs and clinicians, and institute mechanisms to review and iterate CHWs’ work to resolve challenges in their community-oriented role.

PubMed Abstract

Gore, R., Engelberg, R. S., Johnson, D., Jebb, O., Schwartz, M. D., & Islam, N. (2024). Integrating Community Health Workers' Dual Clinic-Community Role in Safety-Net Primary Care: Implementation Lessons from a Pragmatic Diabetes-Prevention Trial. J Gen Intern Med, 39(5), 774-781. doi:10.1007/s11606-023-08512-w