The primary goals of the project were to improve rates of developmental screening and appropriate referral for atypical screens for children from birth to 3 years in participating practices and to integrate parent partners (PPs) into primary care.
Parents' Place of Maryland, in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Health, developed a quality improvement project to improve rates of developmental screening, referral, and follow-up. Nine practices from across the state completed the project. Participating practices received training and technical assistance for screening, referral, and data collection as well as a paid part-time PP to assist with care coordination. Families of children with atypical developmental screening results were offered a referral to receive support in following through with referrals, including needed social services to address health care barriers.
Developmental screening rates across practices increased from 65% to 95% during the 9-month project, and autism-specific screening increased from 75% to 94%. Appropriate referral rates tripled from 6% to 20% of children. After an initial learning curve, practices gradually increased referrals to PPs, and they served 292 individual families (total of 544 contacts) over 9 months. PPs helped families identify a variety of community services to meet their needs.
While developmental screening rates can be improved using quality improvement processes, supporting families to connect to services requires additional resources. Integrating trained PPs into pediatric practices improves access to community-based services in a cost-efficient manner. More research is needed to identify the most efficient models for providing this service on a broader scale.