Community Health Workers in Diabetes Care: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials

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Abstract

Introduction: Maintaining optimal self-care in managing Type 2 diabetes is a common struggle for patients due to several barriers, including access to quality services, financial insecurity and/or lack of insurance, and emotional distress. Consequently, morbidity and mortality rates are high, alongside rising health care costs. Alternative approaches that address common barriers require further investigation. This systematic review of randomized controlled trials examines the effectiveness of using community health workers (CHWs) in Type 2 diabetes care. This effort is warranted to orient practitioners and researchers to the state of existing knowledge, and to direct clinical practice and future research. Method: Data were extracted from 17 peer-reviewed articles; they were examined with respect to theory integration, CHW intervention design, outcome variables, and findings. Results: Approximately one-third of articles explicitly integrated theory into their research conceptualization and design. There was great variation across intervention dosages, attrition rates, and methods of CHW training. Main foci across studies’ findings suggest that a CHW intervention has significant impacts on physical health outcomes, diabetes knowledge, self-care behaviors, and emotional distress and well-being. Discussion: Principal implications relate to the need for more research regarding CHW intervention types and methods, and further investigation about the mechanisms of change within a CHW-delivered intervention. Findings support the case for more CHWs in treatment teams to bridge patients with the medical system. This research will serve to better equip providers in the support of patients managing Type 2 diabetes and advance the Triple Aim of health care.

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