Effect of Community Health Workers on 30-Day Hospital Readmissions in an Accountable Care Organization Population: A Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA Netw Open. 2021 May 3;4(5):e2110936. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.10936.


Importance: Value-based care within accountable care organizations (ACOs) has magnified the importance of reducing preventable hospital readmissions. Community health worker (CHW) interventions may address patients' unmet psychosocial and clinical care needs but have been underused in inpatient and postdischarge care.

Objective: To determine if pairing hospitalized patients with ACO insurance with CHWs would reduce 30-day readmission rates.

Design, setting, and participants: This randomized clinical trial was conducted in 6 general medicine hospital units within 1 academic medical center in Boston, Massachusetts. Participants included adults hospitalized from April 1, 2017, through March 31, 2019, who had ACO insurance and were at risk for 30-day readmission based on a hospital readmission algorithm. The main inclusion criterion was frequency of prior nonelective hospitalizations (≥2 in the past 3 months or ≥3 in the 12 months prior to enrollment). Data were analyzed from February 1, 2018, through March 3, 2021.

Intervention: CHWs met with intervention participants prior to discharge and maintained contact for 30 days postdischarge to assist participants with clinical access and social resources via telephone calls, text messages, and field visits. CHWs additionally provided psychosocial support and health coaching, using motivational interviewing, goal-setting, and other behavioral strategies. The control group received usual care, which included routine care from primary care clinics and any outpatient referrals made by hospital case management or social work at the time of discharge.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was 30-day hospital readmissions. Secondary outcomes included 30-day missed primary care physician or specialty appointments.

Results: A total of 573 participants were enrolled, and 550 participants (mean [SD] age, 70.1 [15.7] years; 266 [48.4%] women) were included in analysis, with 277 participants randomized to the intervention group and 273 participants randomized to the control group. At baseline, participants had a mean (SD) of 3 (0.8) hospitalizations in the prior 12 months. There were 432 participants (78.5%) discharged home and 127 participants (23.1%) discharged to a short rehabilitation stay prior to returning home. Compared with participants in the control group, participants in the intervention group were less likely to be readmitted within 30 days (odds ratio [OR], 0.44; 95% CI, 0.28-0.90) and to miss clinic appointments within 30 days (OR, 0.56; 95% CI, 0.38-0.81). A post hoc subgroup analysis showed that compared with control participants, intervention participants discharged to rehabilitation had a reduction in readmissions (OR, 0.09; 95% CI, 0.03-0.31), but there was no significant reduction for those discharged home (OR, 0.68; 95% CI, 0.41-1.12).

Conclusions and relevance: This randomized clinical trial found that pairing ACO-insured inpatient adults with CHWs reduced readmissions and missed outpatient visits 30 days postdischarge. The effect was significant for those discharged to short-term rehabilitation but not for those discharged home.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03085264.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accountable Care Organizations / organization & administration*
  • Accountable Care Organizations / statistics & numerical data*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Boston
  • Community Health Workers / organization & administration*
  • Community Health Workers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Patient Readmission / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychosocial Intervention / methods*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03085264