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Physicians’ Sharing Strategies For Patient Referrals To Extension’s Health Programs

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

|Dr. Cheryl Eschbach, Michigan State University|

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension is part of a national network of land-grant institutions that implement a variety of evidence-based health programs for state residents. A common challenge for Cooperative Extension is community awareness that these health programs are available. Increasing awareness and familiarity of Extension programs among stakeholders is a continuous effort. The Cooperative Extension National Framework for Health and Wellness stresses the importance of working with healthcare partners to increase such awareness, sharing the effectiveness and availability of our research-based programs that can positively impact individuals and families.

Cooperative Extension and primary care can partner together to connect patients to community-based education. The MSU Model of Health Extension includes strategies to forge these primary care clinical connections. Part of transforming healthcare is to get patients to do more prevention and self-management activities related to their health. Community-based education, especially programs that increase self-efficacy, help people improve their self-management of chronic conditions, 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.  

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 recent survey project conducted by the American Medical Association and Michigan State University Extension revealed how familiar physicians are with Cooperative Extension programs and what factors make referrals to community-based education more or less likely. The survey sample of 323 physicians included licensed providers involved in direct patient care within Michigan. The survey 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 the MSU Extension’s Rx for Health Referral Toolkit, visit:

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