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Advantages of Community Health Workers in Rural Programs

Community health workers (CHWs) help to connect community members to available services and resources. They provide benefits to individuals, communities, providers, and payers. Since CHWs are often members of the communities they serve, and rural communities typically have strong community connections, CHWs have an opportunity to:

  • Develop trusting, one-on-one relationships with patients
  • Act as a liaison between the healthcare system, patients, and families/caregivers
  • Gain support from other organizations serving the community
  • Strengthen care coordination by connecting patients with available healthcare and social support services
  • Extend the reach of healthcare providers and services, which is particularly helpful in areas with shortages of providers
  • Deliver services that are appropriate based on the patient's language and culture
  • Give back to their communities

Access to healthcare services is critical to good health, yet rural residents face a variety of access barriers. By promoting access to healthcare services, CHWs can help improve health outcomes and quality of life in rural communities. Integrating CHWs as a member of the care delivery team, so they are working alongside physicians, nurses, and other healthcare staff, is an effective strategy for achieving improvements in health outcomes. Incorporating CHWs as a member of the care delivery team also frees up resources and enables rural healthcare professionals to focus on more complex patients and issues.

Resources to Learn More

Community Health Workers National Workforce Study
Document
Reports on a national study of the CHW workforce and the factors affecting its utilization and development in urban and rural settings.
Organization(s): Health Resources and Services Administration
Date: 3/2007

Outcomes of Community Health Worker Interventions
Document
Reports the findings from a systematic review of previous studies published from 1980 to 2008 on the characteristics and outcomes of CHW interventions, their cost-effectiveness, and training.
Author(s): Viswanathan, M., Kraschnewski, J., Nishikawa, B., et al.
Organization(s): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
Date: 06/2009