"Because There's Experts That Do That": Lessons Learned by Health Care Organizations When Partnering with Community Organizations

J Gen Intern Med. 2023 Nov;38(15):3348-3354. doi: 10.1007/s11606-023-08308-y. Epub 2023 Jul 18.


Background: Health care organizations' partnerships with community-based organizations (CBOs) are increasingly viewed as key to improving patients' social needs (e.g., food, housing, and economic insecurity). Despite this reliance on CBOs, little research explores the relationships that health care organizations develop with CBOs.

Objective: Understand how health care organizations interact with CBOs to implement social care.

Design: Thirty-three semi-structured telephone interviews collected April-July 2019.

Participants: Administrators at 29 diverse health care organizations with active programming related to improving patients' social needs. Organizations ranged from multi-state systems to single-site practices and differed in structure, size, ownership, and geography.

Measures: Structure and goals of health care organizations' relationship with CBOs.

Results: Most health care organizations (26 out of 29) relied on CBOs to improve their patients' social needs. Health care organization's goals for social care activities drove their relationships with CBOs. First, one-way referrals to CBOs did not require formal relationships or frequent interactions with CBOs. Second, when health care organizations contracted with CBOs to deliver discrete services, leadership-level relationships were required to launch programs while staff-to-staff interactions were used to maintain programs. Third, some health care organizations engaged in community-level activities with multiple CBOs which required more expansive, ongoing leadership-level partnerships. Administrators highlighted 4 recommendations for collaborating with CBOs: (1) engage early; (2) establish shared purpose for the collaboration; (3) determine who is best suited to lead activities; and (4) avoid making assumptions about partner organizations.

Conclusions: Health care organizations tailored the intensity of their relationships with CBOs based on their goals. Administrators viewed informal relationships with limited interactions between organizations sufficient for many activities. Our study offers key insights into how and when health care organizations may want to develop partnerships with CBOs.

MeSH terms

  • Community-Institutional Relations*
  • Delivery of Health Care*