Clinic-Community Connections

MSU Extension and primary care can partner together to connect patients to community-based education.

Part of transforming healthcare is to help patients engage in prevention strategies and learn self-management activities related to maintaining and improving their health. Community-based education, especially programs that increase self-efficacy, help people improve their self-management of chronic condition symptoms such as pain, and can enhance the daily lives of adults as they age. Referrals from physicians for patients to seek health and wellness educational programs in their community can also help address social determinants of health.

Physicians’ Sharing Strategies for Patient Referrals to Extension’s Health Programs

To assist our goals of effective outreach to new healthcare audiences, MSU Extension collaborated with a national partner who also works to transform healthcare. A survey project conducted by the American Medical Association and MSU Extension revealed how familiar physicians are with Cooperative Extension programs and what factors make referrals to community-based education more or less likely. The physician survey sample included licensed providers involved in direct patient care within Michigan. The results suggest that we need to create greater awareness of Extension programs. Thirty percent of physicians surveyed had no familiarity with any Extension programs; forty-five percent were “somewhat to very familiar” with at least one Extension program, and this was most commonly the national diabetes prevention program. Just over half (55%) of the physicians in this sample were currently referring patients to community-based education. There was a pattern for physicians in medium-sized and larger practices making more referrals than smaller practices.

Overall, physicians have positive attitudes about how educational programs help patients, such as, building a supportive network of peers and community, gaining access to health literacy and health promotion tools, increasing awareness of the essential medical testing, and improving knowledge about health conditions. Physicians also shared perceived barriers, such as their limited knowledge about programs and inadequate availability of programs in communities. If physicians were not familiar with programs, they also reported having limited knowledge and evidence to make referrals. Therefore, it appears that not making referrals is more related to a lack of familiarity with the availability and outcomes of community-based educational programs, and less connected to inadequate resources or time to make referrals. Other conclusions from the physician survey suggest Cooperative Extension promotes the following as facilitators to community-based education referrals: adequate availability of programs, setting up methods for communication and coordination, providing progress reports, allowing health care providers to meet program staff, and sharing established evidence of program outcomes.

To learn more about connecting primary care to community-based education and to read about Michigan physicians’ familiarity with Extension programs, visit: 10.1177/1524839919868980