Community Health Worker

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A member of a community who serves as a liaison between health-care providers and health-care consumers who have traditionally lacked access to good health care. Community health workers are also sometimes referred to as community health-care advocates, lay health educators, community health outreach workers and, in Spanish, promotores de salud. Community health workers can be particularly helpful in communities of ethnic minorities because they speak the same language and understand the culture, especially in terms of health-related beliefs and practices. They can help educate members of the community about various health issues, make sure they have access to the health care they need, and help them make necessary lifestyle changes that will improve their health.

Over the years, formal programs have employed community health workers in migrant labor camps, American Indian and Alaskan Native populations, Hispanic/Latino communities, and other groups. Community health workers can be particularly helpful to individuals with diabetes, especially since diabetes disproportionately affects American Indians and Alaska Natives, African-Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established the first national database to document such programs in 1993, called the Combined Health Information Database (CHID), which tracks 200 programs comprising 10,000 community heath workers across the country. A number of studies have shown that, in the care of chronic conditions such as diabetes, programs that use community health workers report greater health improvements in their clients than programs that offer standard treatment.

Originally Published November 24, 2009

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