The American health care system is expensive and difficult for patients to navigate. Even insured patients worry about the costs of care. Most patients believe providers should consider if social determinants of health are impacting patients’ health, such as concerns regarding food, housing or transportation.
Community health workers (CHWs) address patient health care struggles and are an important part of a patient’s experience. CHWs bridge the gap between patients and providers, explaining what providers mean and what the next steps are. They connect patients with resources and help them overcome obstacles to seeking care, such as transportation or a lack of insurance. Health care organizations are realizing the importance of investing in CHWs.
Webinar: Community Health Workers – Strengths, Challenges, Opportunities
Community health workers (CHWs) play an important but little-known role in health care. The Health Fund hosted a webinar on April 21, 2022 focused on CHW certification as well as strengths, challenges, and opportunities for community health workers in Kansas. The webinar can be viewed at the link above.
The webinar included:
- Sarah Jolley of Wichita State University shared findings from a research report on the role of community health workers in health care
- Kansas Department of Health and Environment detailed its CHW project and the new CHW certification
- Community health workers and employers spoke on the role CHWs play in patient care
Hear their stories
To increase awareness of the value of community health workers, the Health Fund and the Wichita State University Community Engagement Institute have produced a series of short videos highlighting the role of community health workers and their contributions to addressing chronic conditions, health accessibility, and health outcomes. The videos also discuss the importance of reimbursement of services and the return on investment to organizations.
The importance of CHWs
Community health workers bridge the gap between the client and health care provider. Medical information can be confusing or even intimidating. Interpreting medical information for patients influences health outcomes.
“Community health workers are the point where health care sort of ends traditionally and extends out into the community or even their home,” said Dennis Dunmyer, COO of KC CARE Health Center. “They help people understand a lot of what the other health care professionals are saying and they help translate for our patients what the next steps are.”
Providers agree that including community health workers in care teams helps patients achieve better outcomes.
“I really think that every health care team and every community-based organization team could benefit from having a community health worker present. I see that my patients are able to follow up with instructions, they are able to get more resources, [and] they are able to live healthier lives because of what our community health workers do,” said Erin Corriveau, MD, University of Kansas Health System.
Community health workers help patients manage chronic conditions.
“A lot of times people with chronic conditions don’t actually feel bad…so it’s confusing as to why they have to take medication every day when they feel fine or why they have to see the doctor a few times a year,” said Dunmyer. “Community health workers can help a lot with education and help people understand why those things are important.”
“One of the main focuses of community health workers is how can we prevent this condition or this situation from ending up in the ER or urgent care,” said Kevin Ochoa, a community health worker. “That all starts with showing our clients how to self-manage their chronic conditions.”
A 2020 study at Penn Medicine found each dollar invested in their CHW program would have a $2.47 return on investment to an average Medicaid payer within the fiscal year. Although CHWs bring great value, a barrier to including CHWs on the health care team is reimbursement.
“For this type of work to continue and to be sustainable, it is critically important to be reimbursed by payers. There have been a number of studies that have demonstrated a return on investment,” said Karen Braman, senior vice president of the Kansas Hospital Association. “It really is critical that community health worker services be reimbursed so they can take advantage of this additional layer of services for patients.”Back to All News