Community health workers can help patients avoid costly hospital stays

Community health workers can help patients avoid costly hospital stays

That old Beatles song about getting by with a little help from your friends can apply to health systems looking for ways to limit the amount of time people spend in hospitals.

A study of people with multiple chronic diseases found those who had support from health system-based community health workers were more likely to spend fewer days in a hospital and to report receiving high-quality primary care.

In a study by University of Pennsylvania researchers, nearly 600 people living in high-poverty areas of Philadelphia with chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure received the same levels of primary care. But half also received support from community health workers for six months.

Community health workers coach the patients on better health behaviors, help them navigate health systems and advocate for them in other ways. Unlike social workers, nurses and others employed by primary care clinics, these are typically laypeople who share a similar background with the people they serve. Previous research has shown this leads to better trust as they can offer practical support based on their own experiences.

Low-income patients often perceive hospital-based care as higher quality than the primary care they can afford, which studies have shown leads to them preferring to go to a hospital rather than a doctor’s office. This study found not only did the patients who had the added support spend less time in the hospital, they had a higher opinion of their primary care doctors and clinics.

The results suggest that sometimes, having someone help you who has walked in your shoes can make a big difference not only in your health but also in how you perceive your care.

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