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Community Health Workers Demonstrate ROI

By John Commins  
   August 18, 2017

New study shows that patient-tailored support from community health workers can reduce hospitalization and improve control of obesity, diabetes and smoking.

Patients who received support from community health workers had 30% fewer hospital admissions in one year and saw reductions in cigarette smoking, obesity, diabetes severity, and mental illness.

That’s according to findings published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, which suggests that CHW programs provide an annual return on investment of $2 for every dollar invested.

“As a nation, we have spent years arguing about healthcare. We need to focus on getting people healthy while reducing spending,” says Ralph Muller, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “This program accomplishes both of these goals and shows us a way forward.”

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania  focused on 302 mostly Medicaid-insured people who had multiple chronic diseases. Half received regular support from IMPaCT (Individualized Management for Patient-Centered Targets) community health workers.

After six months, the patients who had received support from CHWs showed better outcomes on several measures, including lower blood sugar levels, lower body mass index and reduced cigarette smoking. Patients in the intervention group also showed greater improvements in mental health, and were 20% more likely to rate their primary care as comprehensive and supportive of their self-management of disease.

“This is the second clinical trial that shows improved health and lower hospital admissions for the IMPaCT community health worker program,” says senior author Shreva Kangovi, MD, an assistant professor of Medicine at Perelman and executive director of the Penn Center for Community Health Workers.

In 2014, Kangovi and colleagues found evidence that the IMPaCT model improved mental health and lowered hospital readmission among patients recently discharged from the hospital. “We now have evidence for state Medicaid programs or health systems looking for proven strategies to improve health and lower hospital use,” he said.  

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.

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