Introduction: Community health centers often screen for and address patients' unmet social needs. This study examines the degree to which community health center patients report receiving social needs assistance and compares measures of access and quality between patients who received assistance versus similar patients who did not.
Methods: A nationally representative sample of 4,699 nonelderly adults receiving care at community health centers from the 2014-2015 Health Resources and Services Administration Health Center Patient Survey was used, representing 12.6 million patients. The exposure-having "received social needs assistance"-was based on whether a patient received any community health center assistance accessing social programs (e.g., applying for government benefits) or basic needs (e.g., obtaining transportation, housing, food). Using logistic regression models with inverse probability of treatment weights, outcomes for patients who received social needs assistance with similar patients who did not were compared. Study outcomes, reported as absolute adjusted differences, included reporting a community health center as a usual source of care, reporting the emergency department as a usual source of care, perceived quality of care, and willingness to recommend the community health center to others. Data were analyzed in 2020.
Results: Of the sample, 36% reported receiving social needs assistance, where the most common form of assistance was applying for government benefits. Relative to similar patients who did not receive social needs assistance, patients receiving assistance were significantly more likely to report a community health center as their usual source of care (adjusted difference=7.2 percentage points, 95% CI=2.2, 12.1) and to report perceived quality of care as "the best" (adjusted difference=11.1, 95% CI=5.4, 16.9). They were significantly less likely to report the emergency department as their usual source of care (adjusted difference= -4.2, 95% CI= -7.0, -1.3).
Conclusions: As community health centers and other providers consider providing social needs assistance to patients, these results suggest that doing so may be associated with improved access to and quality of care.
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