An emerging body of research points to the unique ability of Community health workers (CHWs) to serve as “bridges” between community members and health care providers and professionals. CHWs complement the health service but do not extend or substitute for more specialized services of health care.
Every patient can benefit from CHW’s as they can provide a wide variety of services including outreach, education, informal counseling, referrals, follow-up, case management, home visiting, social support and advocacy.
Because CHWs live in the community in which they work, they share the language, cultural characteristics and beliefs of the community. They also have an intuitive understanding of what is meaningful to patients and communities, i.e. facilitating their access to health care, promoting healthy behaviors, and creating a stimulus for action.
Health professionals can learn from CHWs the needs of the patients in their community and the social relevance of the interventions, delivering health care interventions in a culturally sensitive manner and helping to make the system more appropriate to the people they serve.
Health care providers can build alliances with CHWs to connect communities with their services and influence their participation in the health system and political dynamics; all helping to fulfill the objectives of health plans and reduce the overall costs of medical attention.
Using CHWs as part of the clinical care team could increase the rates of health coverage and their role in patient center medical home could reduce costs and improve patient’s adherence to provider’s recommendations.
As of July 1, 2007, the Provider Taxonomy of the National Uniform Claims Committee has a provider code for CHWs, which can be used in fee-for-service claims systems.