Community health workers in primary care practice: redesigning health care delivery systems to extend and improve diabetes care in underserved populations

Health Promot Pract. 2014 Nov;15(2 Suppl):51S-61S. doi: 10.1177/1524839914539961.


New, comprehensive, approaches for chronic disease management are needed to ensure that patients, particularly those more likely to experience health disparities, have access to the clinical care, self-management resources, and support necessary for the prevention and control of diabetes. Community health workers (CHWs) have worked in community settings to reduce health care disparities and are currently being deployed in some clinical settings as a means of improving access to and quality of care. Guided by the chronic care model, Baylor Health Care System embedded CHWs within clinical teams in community clinics with the goal of reducing observed disparities in diabetes care and outcomes. This study examines findings from interviews with patients, CHWs, and primary care providers (PCPs) to understand how health care delivery systems can be redesigned to effectively incorporate CHWs and how embedding CHWs in primary care teams can produce informed, activated patients and prepared, proactive practice teams who can work together to achieve improved patient outcomes. Respondents indicated that the PCPs continued to provide clinical exams and manage patient care, but the roles of diabetes education, nutritional counseling, and patient activation were shifted to the CHWs. CHWs also provided patients with social support and connection to community resources. Integration of CHWs into clinical care teams improved patient knowledge and activation levels, the ability of PCPs to identify and proactively address specific patient needs, and patient outcomes.

Keywords: chronic disease; diabetes; health disparities; health research; lay health advisors/community health workers; qualitative research.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Community Health Workers*
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medically Underserved Area*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Quality Improvement*
  • Texas
  • Urban Health
  • Workforce