Resource Brokering: Efforts to Assist Patients With Housing, Transportation, and Economic Needs in Primary Care Settings

Ann Fam Med. 2021 Nov-Dec;19(6):507-514. doi: 10.1370/afm.2739.


Purpose: Clinicians and policy makers are exploring the role of primary care in improving patients' social conditions, yet little research examines strategies used in clinical settings to assist patients with social needs.

Methods: Study used semistructured interviews with leaders and frontline staff at 29 diverse health care organizations with active programs used to address patients' social needs. Interviews focused on how organizations develop and implement case management-style programs to assist patients with social needs including staffing, assistance intensity, and use of referrals to community-based organizations (CBOs).

Results: Organizations used case management programs to assist patients with social needs through referrals to CBOs and regular follow-up with patients. About one-half incorporated care for social needs into established case management programs and the remaining described standalone programs developed specifically to address social needs independent of clinical needs. Referrals were the foundation for assistance and included preprinted resource lists, patient-tailored lists, and warm handoffs to the CBOs. While all organizations referred patients to CBOs, some also provided more intense services such as assistance completing patients' applications for services or conducting home visits. Organizations described 4 operational challenges in addressing patients' social needs: (1) effectively engaging CBOs; (2) obtaining buy-in from clinical staff; (3) considering patients' perspectives; and (4) ensuring program sustainability.

Conclusion: As the US health care sector faces pressure to improve quality while managing costs, many health care organizations will likely develop or rely on case management approaches to address patients' social conditions. Health care organizations may require support to address the key operational challenges.Visual abstract.

Keywords: case management; primary care; social determinants of health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Transportation