Can Community Health Workers Increase Palliative Care Use for African American Patients? A Pilot Study

JCO Oncol Pract. 2021 Feb;17(2):e158-e167. doi: 10.1200/OP.20.00574. Epub 2021 Jan 21.


Purpose: African American patients with cancer underutilize advance care planning (ACP) and palliative care (PC). This feasibility study investigated whether community health workers (CHWs) could improve ACP and PC utilization for African American patients with advanced cancer.

Methods: African American patients diagnosed with an advanced solid organ cancer (stage IV or stage III disease with a palliative performance score < 60%) were enrolled. Patients completed baseline surveys that assessed symptom burden and distress at baseline and 3 months post-CHW intervention. The CHW intervention consisted of a comprehensive assessment of multiple PC domains and social determinants of health. CHWs provided tailored support and education on the basis of iterative assessment of patient needs. Intervention feasibility was determined by patient and caregiver retention rate above 50% at 3 months.

Results: Over a 12-month period, 24 patients were screened, of which 21 were deemed eligible. Twelve patients participated in the study. Patient retention was high at 3 months (75%) and 6 months (66%). Following the CHW intervention, symptom assessment as measured by Edmonton Symptom Assessment System improved from 33.8 at baseline to 18.8 (P = .03). Psychological distress improved from 5.5 to 4.7 (P = .36), and depressive symptoms from 42.2 to 33.6 (P = .09), although this was not significant. ACP documentation improved from 25% at baseline to 75% at study completion. Sixty-seven percentage of patients were referred to PC, with 100% of three decedents using hospice.

Conclusion: Utilization of CHWs to address PC domains and social determinants of health is feasible. Although study enrollment was identified as a potential barrier, most recruited patients were retained on study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American
  • Community Health Workers
  • Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care*
  • Pilot Projects