Community health workers play an integral role in identifying patients' social needs

Addressing patients' health-related social needs, like housing and food security, is integral to patient care. Federally Qualified Health Centers are leaders in screening for and addressing patients' health-related social needs. However, screening practices vary. This variation is relatively unexplored, particularly with regards to organizational and state policy influences. Study authors conducted in-person, qualitative interviews at Michigan FQHCs to examine how screening approaches vary in the context of statewide social needs screening initiatives and structural factors. They identified four themes:

1) Statewide initiatives and local leadership drove variation in screening practices.

2) Community health workers played an integral role in identifying patients' needs and their roles often shifted from "screener" to "implementer."

3) Social needs screening data was variably integrated into electronic health records and infrequently used for population health management and

4) Sites experienced barriers to social needs screening that limited their perceived impact and sustainability.

FQHCs placed value on the role of community health workers, on sustainable initiatives and on funding to support continued social needs screening in primary care settings, according to the study. Determining the optimal approaches to screening is important to advancing community health.

Journal reference:

Greenwood-Ericksen, M., et al. (2021) Implementation of Health-Related Social Needs Screening at Michigan Health Centers: A Qualitative Study. Annals of Family Medicine.


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