Business of Health Care: Community Health Workers

Apr 19, 2019

Community health workers have emerged as an effective strategy in engaging patients and caregivers in lowering costs for healthcare's "frequent flyers" – patients who often visit emergency rooms and fill hospital beds.

Community health workers have been part of healthcare worldwide for decades. 

They generally are not doctors or nurses, and often are recruited directly from the communities they serve. 

Their purpose is to help individuals navigate the healthcare system, manage chronic illnesses more effectively, and access preventive care. 

They also help patients tackle important health-related issues such as food and housing insecurity.

Community health workers often serve people in impoverished communities who lack access to quality healthcare, lack the means to pay for healthcare, do not speak English fluently, or have cultural beliefs, values, and behaviors that differ from those the traditional U.S. healthcare system is geared towards.

New research suggests these workers may contribute to fewer days in the hospital for some patients. 

Patients with help from a community health worker were nearly twice as likely to report high-quality primary care and spent fewer total days in the hospital. 

Recognizing the value of these individuals, the Texas Department of State Health Services has a community health worker certification program to develop these dedicated individuals’ communication and navigation skills, as well as their knowledge of available community resources.  

Though typically not clinicians or administrators, community health workers are playing an increasingly important role in healthcare quality and cost.