Background: Community health workers (CHW) are specially trained lay-people often used as liaisons between underserved communities and the health care system. Prior studies suggest that use of CHWs can improve patient outcomes and reduce costs in a variety of illnesses. The role of CHW in managing patients with heart failure however has not been studied. This pilot study assesses the effect of CHW on hospital readmissions and Emergency Department (ED) visits for heart failure patients in an urban setting.
Methods: Patients admitted to the hospital with a primary diagnosis of acute decompensated heart failure between April 2016 and March 2017 were screened for a pilot program to receive weekly home visits by a CHW. Visits included standardized assessment of overall well-being, vital signs, weight management, symptom control, medication compliance, diet education, and healthcare appointment reminders. Abnormal findings were reported to a cardiology nurse practitioner who triaged complaints and made appropriate changes. For this pilot study, enrolled patients were matched using 31 variables with retrospective control patients admitted with heart failure who did not receive a CHW. Hospital admissions and ED visits were compared for the 6 months following the index admission vs. the 6 months prior.
Results: Sixteen patients received weekly visits from a CHW for 6 months after hospital admission. These were matched with 16 control patients who did not receive a CHW. Patients who received a CHW experienced a 36% decrease in Emergency Department (ED) visits in the 6 months after enrollment compared with the 6 months before. Control patients, however, experienced a 40% increase in ED visits over the same period. Similarly, patients with a CHW experienced a 42% decrease in hospital readmissions while control patients experienced a 28% increase. There was no significant difference in mortality between the groups.
Conclusions: This pilot study suggests that CHW may reduce healthcare utilization for patients with heart failure without negatively impacting mortality. Based on these findings, a larger study is warranted to assess the efficacy and cost-efficiency of CHWs in helping to manage patients with heart failure.