Background: Primary care practices able to create linkages with community resources may be more successful at helping patients to make and sustain health behavior changes.
Methods: Health behavior-change interventions in eight practice-based research networks were examined. Data were collected July 2005-October 2007. A comparative analysis of the data was conducted to identify and understand strategies used for linking primary care practices with community resources.
Results: Intervention practices developed three strategies to initiate and/or implement linkages with community resources: pre-identified resource options, referral guides, and people external to the practice who offered support and connection to resources. To initiate linkages, practices required the capacity to identify patients, make referrals, and know area resources. Linkage implementation could still be defeated if resources were not available, accessible, affordable, and perceived as valuable. Linkages were facilitated by boundary-spanning strategies that compensated for the lack of infrastructure between practices and resources, and by brokering strategies that identified interested community partners and aided mutually beneficial connections with them. Linkages were stronger when they incorporated practice or resource abilities to motivate the patient, such as brief counseling or postreferral outreach. Further, data suggested that sustaining linkages requires continuous attention and ongoing communication between practices and resources.
Conclusions: Creating linkages between primary care practices and community resources has the potential to benefit both patients and clinicians and to lessen the burden on the U.S. healthcare system resulting from poor health behaviors. Infrastructure support and communication systems must be developed to foster sustainable linkages between practices and local resources.