Building teams in primary care: what do nonlicensed allied health workers want?

Perm J. 2011 Summer;15(3):9-17. doi: 10.7812/TPP/11-080.


Introduction: Nonlicensed allied health workers are becoming increasingly important in collaborative team care, yet we know little about their experiences while filling these roles. To explore their perceptions of working as health coaches in a chronic-disease collaborative team, the teamlet model, we conducted a qualitative study to understand the nature and dynamics of this emerging role.

Methods: During semistructured interviews, 11 health coaches reflected on their yearlong experience in the teamlet model at an urban underserved primary care clinic. Investigators conducted a thematic analysis of transcriptions of the interviews using a grounded theory process.

Results: Four themes emerged: 1) health-coach roles and responsibilities included acting as a patient liaison between visits, providing patient education and cultural brokering during medical visits, and helping patients navigate the health care system; 2) communication and relationships in the teamlet model of care were defined by a triad of the patient, health coach, and resident physician; 3) interest in the teamlet model was influenced by allied health workers' prior education and health care roles; and 4) factors influencing the effectiveness of the model were related to clinical and administrative time pressures and competing demands of other work responsibilities.

Conclusion: Nonlicensed allied health workers participating in collaborative teams have an important role in liaising between patients and their primary care physicians, advocating for patients through cultural brokering, and helping patients navigate the health care system. To maximize their job satisfaction, their selection should involve strong consideration of motivation to participate in these expanded roles, and protected time must be provided for them to carry out their responsibilities and optimize their effectiveness.