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COVID-19 pandemic showcased importance of care coordinators in primary care practices

News
Article

Coordinators provided vital human connection for patients, study finds

Doctor holding blocks beneath "coordination" ©wladimir1804-stock.adobe.com

©wladimir1804-stock.adobe.com

While the COVID-19 pandemic created significant disruptions in primary care for many patients, the use of care coordinators greatly lessened the impact of those disruptions, particularly for patients with mental health conditions.

That was among the findings of a recent study in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine examining how care coordinators helped patients with multiple chronic diseases manage during the pandemic. The study’s authors interviewed 19 primary care patients receiving care coordination services about how the pandemic affected their overall health as well as their mental health, social connections, finances, and employment. The patients were predominately white, non-Hispanic women receiving a medical-social model of care coordination. Their average age was 67.

The interviews revealed four general themes:

  • Care coordinators were a significant and reliable source of help, support and comfort,
  • Patients felt little to no impact on the status of their physical health or health care services,
  • Patients’ disconnection from family, friends and community affected their mental health and wellbeing, and
  • Patients on fixed incomes or government supports experienced little to no financial impact from the pandemic

While the pandemic caused a reduction in the use of health care services among patients generally, the study found that care coordination patients continued receiving the same level of services. That’s because coordinators were able to use phone or virtual visits to assess patients’ needs and provide them with support and connection. And while some patients were unhappy with virtual visits, “all commented on the importance of their ongoing contact with their care coordinators whether it was virtual or in-person.”

Contact with care coordinators was especially important for patients with preexisting mental health conditions, the study found, since the pandemic limited their ability to interact with friends, family and community.

“For many of these patients, their care coordinator was the ongoing stable point of contact that connected them not only to health care, but to social and psychological resources when needed,” the researchers wrote. “This ongoing connection with someone they trusted to act as an advocate/advisor helped many navigate the challenges that arose with social isolation.”

The authors note their study was limited by the small sample size and the fact that participants were mostly white and female. Moreover, participants were identified by care coordinators themselves, introducing the potential for bias.

Nevertheless, they say, the study refutes health care experts who have questioned the importance of care coordination in primary care because it “provides the view of patients on this and with a singular voice they find care coordination services are valuable for their overall health and wellbeing.”

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