Contingent engagement: What we learn from patients with complex health problems and low socioeconomic status

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OBJECTIVE: Elicit patients' perceptions of factors that facilitate their engagement in care METHODS: In-depth interviews with 20 adult Medicaid patients who had complex health problems, frequent hospitalizations/emergency department use, and who were enrolled in an intensive, team-based care program designed to address medical, behavioral, and social needs.

RESULTS: Prior to engaging in the program, participants described weak relationships with primary care providers, frequent hospitalizations and emergency visits, poor adherence to medications and severe social barriers to care. After participating in the program, participants identified key factors that enabled them to develop trust and engage with care including: availability for extended intensive interactions, a non-judgmental approach, addressing patients' material needs, and providing social contact for isolated patients. After developing relationships with their care team, participants described changes such as sustained interactions with their primary care team and incremental improvements in health behaviors.

CONCLUSION: These findings illuminate factors promoting "contingent engagement" for low socio-economic status patients with complex health problems, which allow them to become proactive in ways commensurate with their circumstances, and offers insights for designing interventions to improve patient outcomes.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: For these patients, engagement is contingent on healthcare providers' efforts to develop trust and address patients' material needs.