The Roles and Functions of Community Health Workers in Primary Care

November 1, 2022

Community Health Workers (CHWs) are ordinary members of the community who work with the local health care system in both urban and rural environments. CHWs usually share ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and life experiences with the community members they serve. CHWs offer interpretation and translation services, and culturally appropriate health education and information. They also help people get the care they need, give informal counseling and guidance on health behaviors, advocate for individual and community health needs, and provide some direct services such as first aid, checking vital signs, and other health screening services. Since CHWs typically reside in the community they serve, they have the unique ability to bring information where it is needed most. They can reach community residents where they live, eat, play, work, and worship. CHWs are frontline agents of change, helping to reduce health disparities in underserved communities.

CHWs may perform the following roles:

- Create connections between vulnerable populations and healthcare providers
- Reduce social isolation among patients
- Ensure cultural competence among healthcare providers serving vulnerable populations
- Educate healthcare providers and stakeholders about community health needs
- Provide culturally appropriate health education on topics related to chronic disease prevention, physical activity, nutrition, etc
- Advocate for underserved individuals or communities to receive services and resources to address health needs
- Collect data and relay information to stakeholders to inform programs and policies
- Provide informal counseling, health screenings, and referrals
- Build community capacity to address health issues
- Address social determinants of health

Among the many known outcomes of CHWs’ service are the following:

- Improved access to health care services
- Increased health and screening
- Better linkage between community members and the health care system.
- Increased use of health care services
- Improved adherence to health recommendations
- Reduced need for emergency services
- Reduce risk of preventable diseases
- Reduce rates of preventable death

References
Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/healthdisp/role-of-community-health-workers.htm#:~:text=CHWs%20offer%20interpretation%20and%20translation,such%20as%20first%20aid%20and

Rural Health Information Hub (2022) Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/toolkits/community-health-workers/1/roles

Babongile B. Nkala, IHELP MPH Intern 2022

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