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HealthPartners Institute Receives Major Grant from National Institute on Aging to Evaluate Potential Benefits of Community Health Workers

Study will inform health systems’ use of community-based providers for detection and treatment of heart disease patients

August 31, 2018

Aug. 31, 2018 – BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Embedding health care providers in neighborhoods to help people receive the care they need seems like a good idea. Yet there’s not enough data about health outcomes and costs to show how good they actually are for metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities. This is one reason health systems are not widely investing in hyper-local providers called community health workers.

Over the next four years, researchers in HealthPartners Institute will use a major grant from the National Institute on Aging to determine which communities could benefit most from early detection and treatment of heart disease risk factors. Then they will assess how effective community health workers could be at improving cardiovascular health outcomes, costs, and disparities in these communities. The data could make the case – or not – for this position. The researchers hypothesize that delivering health care close to where people live could help with the screening and management of conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes that lead to heart disease.

“Early evidence suggests health systems could benefit from broader use of community health workers, particularly in underserved communities. But, data is still limited so we’re not leveraging what appears to be a very promising approach to population health,” said Bjorn Westgard, MD, emergency medicine research director at Regions Hospital and principal investigator on the study. “This study will provide actionable knowledge so health systems and policy makers can invest in ways to improve health disparities.”

In partnership with the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota and Hennepin Healthcare, HealthPartners Institute will analyze large amounts of de-identified data from hospitals in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. They will look for pockets of heart disease risk factors and other aggravating environmental factors to see how they show up across a given region. Based on this data, the researchers can determine specific areas that would be best-served by community health workers.

The researchers will then use simulations to model what health and cost benefits could be if one or more community health worker were assigned to specific areas. This analysis will hopefully be replicable across other markets, giving health systems a compelling way to determine how best to leverage community health workers among other solutions.

“There’s precision medicine, and then there’s precision population health,” Bjorn said. “This is a unique way to figure out how to be most effective at reducing health disparities and making care more affordable by providing care where people live.”

About HealthPartners Institute

HealthPartners Institute is part of HealthPartners, the largest consumer-governed, non-profit health care organization in the nation with a mission to improve health and well-being in partnership with members, patients and the community. HealthPartners Institute supports this mission through research, education and practice. The Institute annually conducts 400+ research studies, provides continuing medical education to 24,000 health professionals and trains 575 medical residents and fellows and 1,200 medical and advanced practice students. The Institute also supports clinical quality improvement and patient education programs. Its integration with HealthPartners’ hospitals, clinics and health plan strengthens the Institute’s ability to discover and develop evidence-based solutions and translate them into practice. Based in Minneapolis, the Institute’s work impacts care, health and well-being across the region and nation as well as internationally. For more information, visit

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