The role of lay health workers in pediatric chronic disease: a systematic review

Acad Pediatr. 2013 Sep-Oct;13(5):408-20. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2013.04.015.


Background: Children with chronic diseases represent a high-cost and resource-intensive population of children. With continued gaps in chronic disease management and persistent fragmentation in the health care system, stakeholders are seeking new strategies to address the needs of these children.

Objective: We sought to systematically assess the effectiveness of lay health worker interventions in improving health care utilization, symptom management, and family psychosocial outcomes for children with chronic conditions.

Data source: PubMed, PsycINFO, and Web of Science (January 1961 to February 2013).

Study eligibility criteria, participants, and interventions: We developed a strategy to search citations to identify relevant articles. Search terms included randomized controlled trial (RCT), lay worker, parent mentor, peer mentor, peer educator, community health workers, community health aids, patient advocate, patient facilitator, patient liaison, promotoras(es), care ambassadors, patient navigator, and nonprofessional. Additional studies were identified by searching the reference lists of retrieved articles and contacting clinical experts. RCTs of lay health worker interventions for children with chronic conditions were included. Studies were restricted to those concentrated on children 0-18 years of age with chronic illnesses.

Study appraisal and synthesis methods: Abstracts were independently screened by 2 reviewers. Articles with relevant abstracts underwent full text review and were evaluated for inclusion criteria. A structured tool was used to abstract data from selected articles. Because of the heterogeneous interventions and outcomes, we did not conduct a meta-analysis.

Results: The search yielded 736 unique articles, of which 17 met inclusion criteria. All interventions focused on specific conditions: asthma, type I diabetes, obesity, and failure to thrive. Interventions were heterogeneous in frequency, mode, and duration of interactions between lay health workers and subjects. Several interventions were multifaceted, including both one-on-one and group interactions. Improved outcomes most commonly reported were reduced urgent care use, decreases in symptoms, fewer missed work and school days, and increased parental quality of life. One study demonstrated that lay health worker interventions were cost-effective.

Conclusions: Lay health workers interventions in children with chronic conditions may lead to modest improvements in urgent care use, symptoms, and parental psychosocial outcomes. Such interventions may also be cost-effective. Future research should focus on interventions targeted toward other chronic conditions such as sickle cell disease or cystic fibrosis and medically complex children whose conditions are noncategorical.

Keywords: adolescent; asthma; child; child, preschool; chronic disease; community health workers; diabetes mellitus type 1; failure to thrive; infant; infant, newborn; obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Asthma / economics
  • Asthma / therapy
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease / economics
  • Chronic Disease / therapy*
  • Community Health Workers* / economics
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / economics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / therapy
  • Disease Management
  • Failure to Thrive / economics
  • Failure to Thrive / therapy
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mentors
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Pediatric Obesity / economics
  • Pediatric Obesity / therapy
  • Pediatrics / methods*
  • Role*