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Implementation of peer specialist services in VA primary care: a cluster randomized trial on the impact of external facilitation.

Chinman M, Goldberg R, Daniels K, Muralidharan A, Smith J, McCarthy S, Medoff D, Peeples A, Kuykendall L, Vineyard N, Li L. Implementation of peer specialist services in VA primary care: a cluster randomized trial on the impact of external facilitation. Implementation science : IS. 2021 Jun 7; 16(1):60.

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BACKGROUND: Over 1100 veterans work in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) as peer specialists (PSs)-those with formal training who support other veterans with similar diagnoses. A White House Executive Action mandated the pilot reassignment of VHA PSs from their usual placement in mental health to 25 primary care Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs) in order to broaden the provision of wellness services that can address many chronic illnesses. An evaluation of this initiative was undertaken to assess the impact of outside assistance on the deployment of PSs in PACTs, as implementation support is often needed to prevent challenges commonly experienced when first deploying PSs in new settings. METHODS: This study was a cluster-randomized hybrid II effectiveness-implementation trial to test the impact of minimal implementation support vs. facilitated implementation on the deployment of VHA PSs in PACT over 2 years. Twenty-five Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs) were recruited to reassign mental health PSs to provide wellness-oriented care in PACT. Sites in three successive cohorts (n = 7, 10, 8) over 6-month blocks were matched and randomized to each study condition. In facilitated implementation, an outside expert worked with site stakeholders through a site visit and regular calls, and provided performance data to guide the planning and address challenges. Minimal implementation sites received a webinar and access to the VHA Office of Mental Health Services work group. The two conditions were compared on PS workload data and veteran measures of activation, satisfaction, and functioning. Qualitative interviews collected information on perceived usefulness of the PS services. RESULTS: In the first year, sites that received facilitation had higher numbers of unique veterans served and a higher number of PS visits, although the groups did not differ after the second year. Also, sites receiving external facilitation started delivering PS services more quickly than minimal support sites. All sites in the external facilitation condition continued in the pilot into the second year, whereas two of the sites in the minimal assistance condition dropped out after the first year. There were no differences between groups on veterans'' outcomes-activation, satisfaction, and functioning. Most veterans were very positive about the help they received as evidenced in the qualitative interviews. DISCUSSION: These findings demonstrate that external facilitation can be effective in supporting the implementation of PSs in primary care settings. The lack of significant differences across conditions after the second year highlights the positive outcomes associated with active facilitation, while also raising the important question of whether longer-term success may require some level of ongoing facilitation and implementation support. TRIAL REGISTRATION: This project is registered at with number NCT02732600 (URL: ).

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