Comparing the Implementation of Team Approaches for Improving Diabetes Care in Community Health Centers

Published in: BMC Health Services Research, v. 14, no. 608, Dec. 2014, p. 1-11

Posted on RAND.org on December 15, 2014

by Philip J. Wees, Mark W. Friedberg, Elena Alcala Guzman, John Z. Ayanian, Hector Rodriguez

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BACKGROUND: Patient panel management and community-based care management may be viable strategies for community health centers to improve the quality of diabetes care for vulnerable patient populations. The objective of our study was to clarify implementation processes and experiences of integrating office-based medical assistant (MA) panel management and community health worker (CHW) community-based management into routine care for diabetic patients. METHODS: Mixed methods study with interviews and surveys of clinicians and staff participating in a study comparing the effectiveness of MA and CHW health coaching for improving diabetes care. Participants included 24 key informants in five role categories and 249 clinicians and staff survey respondents from 14 participating practices. We conducted thematic analyses of key informant interview transcripts to clarify implementation processes and describe barriers to integrating the new roles into practice. We surveyed clinicians and staff to assess differences in practice culture among intervention and control groups. We triangulated findings to identify concordant and disparate results across data sources. RESULTS: Implementation processes and experiences varied considerably among the practices implementing CHW and MA team-based approaches, resulting in differences in the organization of health coaching and self-management support activities. Importantly, CHW and MA responsibilities converged over time to focus on health coaching of diabetic patients. MA health coaches experienced difficulty in allocating dedicated time due to other MA responsibilities that often crowded out time for diabetic patient health coaching. Time constraints also limited the personal introduction of patients to health coaches by clinicians. Participants highlighted the importance of a supportive team climate and proactive leadership as important enablers for MAs and CHWs to implement their health coaching responsibilities and also promoted professional growth. CONCLUSION: Implementation of team-based strategies to improve diabetes care for vulnerable populations was diverse, however all practices converged in their foci on health coaching roles of CHWs and MAs. Our study suggests that a flexible approach to implementing health coaching is more important than fidelity to rigid models that do not allow for variable allocation of responsibilities across team members. Clinicians play an instrumental role in supporting health coaches to grow into their new patient care responsibilities.

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