Health service brokerage to improve primary care access for populations experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage: A systematic review and realist synthesis

Louise Thomas, Sharon Parker, Hyun Song, Nilakshi Gunatillaka, Grant Russell, Mark Harris, on behalf of the IMPACT Team

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Individuals experiencing disadvantage or marginalisation often face difficulty accessing primary health care. Overcoming access barriers is important for improving the health of these populations. Brokers can empower and enable people to access resources; however, their role in increasing access to health services has not been well-defined or researched in the literature. This review aims to identify whether a health service broker working with health and social service providers in the community can (a) identify individuals experiencing vulnerability who may benefit from improved access to quality primary care, and (b) link these individuals with an appropriate primary care provider for enduring, appropriate primary care. Methods: Six databases were searched for studies published between January 2008 and August 2015 that evaluated a health service broker intervention linking adults experiencing vulnerability to primary care. Relevant websites were also searched. Included studies were analysed using candidacy theory and a realist matrix was developed to identify mechanisms that may have contributed to changes in response to the interventions in different contexts. Results: Eleven studies were included in the review. Of the eight studies judged to provide detailed description of the programs, the interventions predominately addressed two domains of candidacy (identification of candidacy and navigation), with limited applicability to the third and fourth dimensions (permeability of services and appearances at health services). Six of the eight studies were judged to have successfully linked their target group to primary care. The majority of the interventions focused on assisting patients to reach services and did not look at ways that providers or health services could alter the way they deliver care to improve access. Conclusions: While specific mechanisms behind the interventions could not be identified, it is suggested that individual advocacy may be a key element in the success of these types of interventions. The interventions were found to address some dimensions of candidacy, with health service brokers able to help people to identify their need for care and to access, navigate and interact with services. More consideration should be given to the influence of providers on patient candidacy, rather than placing the onus on patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number269
Number of pages17
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2019


  • Access to care
  • Broker
  • Candidacy theory
  • Health service brokerage
  • IMPACT study
  • Primary care
  • Realist evaluation
  • Systematic review
  • Vulnerable populations

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