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Can Peer Health Coaches Boost Patient Engagement in Drug Recovery?

A Boston Medical Center project will connect patients with peer recovery coaches to boost patient engagement with long-term opioid abuse recovery.

patient engagement opioid abuse recovery

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Boston Medical Center (BMC) has launched a new program to improve patient engagement during opioid abuse recovery.

The program, titled Project RECOVER (Referral, Engagement, Case management and Overdose preVention Education in Recovery), will use peer wellness coaches to help better engage patients during the various aspects of substance abuse disorder treatment. Peer wellness coaches will be in charge of coordinating care for opioid abuse recovery patients.

Specifically, peer wellness coaches will be in charge of developing recovery plans, patient engagement, and addressing the social determinants of health including housing and food security and child care.

To prepare for that role, wellness coaches will receive training from the Massachusetts-based Recovery Coach Academy or equally rigorous training programs, BMC assured. Peer wellness coaches will also receive training in motivational interviewing and use of overdose recovery drug naloxone.

"Peer recovery coaches are increasingly common across the country, but we're still seeing disparities in treatment, especially among black and Hispanic patient populations," said Ricardo Cruz, MD, the principal investigator of Project RECOVER and a researcher with the Grayken Center for Addiction at BMC. "This study will serve residents in our local communities who are disproportionately impacted by the opioid epidemic."

Current efforts to support opioid addiction recovery are falling short, the BMC researchers pointed out. Previous studies have found that 90 percent of substance abuse disorder patients relapse within one year of discharge from an inpatient detox center.

Likelihood of relapse increases for patients who are not in long-term behavioral health and drug addiction recovery programs. Despite that fact, very few patients actually have access to long-term care for substance abuse treatment, meaning most patients go without care after initial inpatient detox.

This most recent effort from BMC aims to deliver that much-needed long-term treatment plan to substance abuse disorder patients, the researchers said.

Patients in the program can gain access to primary care providers who specialize in chronic disease management, specifically for conditions such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. These patients will also receive referrals to behavioral health specialists where appropriate.

Project RECOVER will also help support patients alongside their family caregivers and other support system members. While the project expects to enroll 180 patients recovering from substance abuse disorder, leaders think it will reach 360 family caregivers.

As a result, peer wellness coaches will need to provide education to these family caregivers. Project RECOVER will issue 180 naloxone kits to patients and another 180 to family care partners in the event that a recovering patient relapses and overdoses.

This program comes as a part of a national movement toward using peer navigators to aid patient engagement with treatment and care coordination. Previous research has indicated that peer wellness coaches and layperson navigators can help connect patients to needed services while cutting costs for healthcare organizations.

Peer navigators can also improve patient engagement, the BMC researchers posited.

"Patients who are just entering recovery want to receive help from individuals who have overcome addiction themselves,” the researchers said. “Peer coaches have a high level of understanding and know how to connect with patients who have substance use disorders on a more personal level, as well as navigate the complexities of recovery resources and the healthcare system."

BMC launched this project in partnership with Lahey Health Behavioral Services Boston and Dimock Community Center, both based out of Massachusetts. The organizations received a $1 million grant from the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Minority health to support their work as a part of the HHS Empowered Communities for a Healthier Nation Initiative.

Following study completion, researchers plan to compile lessons learned and best practices for a substance abuse treatment and peer wellness coach playbook.

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