While the delivery of healthcare is essential to staying healthy and getting well, it is not the only determinant of health. Other factors such as psychosocial factors and environmental conditions in which people live, work, and age can have a far greater influence. These factors are referred to as social determinants of health. Existing evidence has found that addressing social determinants of health like housing and food, is effective in improving patient health outcomes and decreasing healthcare costs.
Social determinants of health can significantly affect a person’s overall health and quality of life. Patients with social determinants that negatively impact health, such as lack of access to transportation and the place in which they live, can be exceptionally challenging to keep healthy and often rely on the emergency department (ED) for care. Reaching and engaging with patients in primary care settings can be vital to addressing patient needs. The positive influence of community health workers (CHWs) acting as a bridge between vulnerable patients and the healthcare system has shown to decrease emergency department visits and hospital admissions.
Partners HealthCare, a non-profit health system located in Boston, recognized that meeting the needs of vulnerable patient populations was an opportunity to improve patient outcomes as well as reduce cost. Through its integrated care management program (iCMP), the Partners system had some success in improving the care delivered to underserved communities. Partners’ academic medical centers, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, conducted pilots which focused on the CHW role; one model that empowered CHWs to serve as care leads, and one model that incorporated CHWs into the care team.
Integration of CHWs into the iCMP is yielding positive results for both pilots. Using a pilot conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, when comparing the difference in six months post-program outcomes to six months pre-program outcomes:
When the CHW functions as a lead, results include a:
$664 larger per member per month (PMPM) reduction in total medical expense and an 11 percent larger reduction in ED visits compared to the control group.
When the CHW functions as a part of the care team, results include a:
$635 larger PMPM increase in total medical expense, however, patients with a CHW team member had a 28 percent larger reduction in ED visits, and an 11 percent larger decrease in office no-show rates compared to the control group.