Title. Establishing a new service role in tuberculosis care: the tuberculosis link worker
Aim. This paper is a report of a study to develop a social outreach model of care, including the role of a link worker in developing collaborative care pathways, for marginalized groups with tuberculosis.
Background. Social risk factors such as homelessness and substance misuse are associated with poor treatment outcomes. Models of interprofessional practice to address the health and social care of patients are needed to improve outcomes.
Methods. A process evaluation involving a prospective cohort study of 100 patients and interviews with eight agencies involved in their care was conducted in London between January 2003 and April 2005. Outcome measures included a profile of patient need to guide service development; referrals to care providers; goal attainment; social improvement and treatment outcomes; and agencies’ views on the benefits of link working.
Findings. The median age of the sample was 32·4 years and 62% were males. Reasons for referral to the link worker included housing need (56%); welfare benefits (42%); immigration (29%) and clinical management issues (28%). One-third of the patients were referred to other agencies. Goals, as agreed in the care plan, were attained totally or partially for 88% (59/67) of patients and 78% of patients successfully completed treatment. Barriers to attaining goals included service criteria which excluded some groups of patients and, in some cases, a patient’s inability to follow a course of action.
Conclusion. Link workers can mitigate some of the social risk factors that complicate the treatment of tuberculosis by enabling integrated health and social care.