Community Health Workers (CHWs) have been a part of the American medical landscape for over 50 years. Rural healthcare systems have utilized these locally-based professionals as liaisons to underserved populations. With hospital budgets spread thin, CHWs can bridge a critical gap between providers and residents who can fall through the cracks.
Since they often live in the communities they serve, Community Health Workers understand the local customs and socioeconomic conditions. This insight allows them to overcome cultural obstacles to treatment and prevention. Rural communities have unique rhythms and challenges that can be difficult for outsiders to understand. CHWs can be an invaluable link to the local community.
Through outreach programs, Community Health Workers can provide vital education to help rural populations live healthier lives and improve outcomes. This can run the gamut from living with chronic illnesses to lifestyle changes that can forestall conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. CHWs can provide free resources to people who might not be able to afford regular visits to a provider.
Language and cultural barriers may prevent some residents from availing themselves of medical services. They may distrust or lack understanding of modern American healthcare. Community Health Workers can offer a critical service to these population segments to navigate the system by acting as translators or explaining information to those with a limited understanding of English.
Rural communities sometimes have limited options when it comes to healthcare. Depending on their training, Community Health Workers can also provide basic medical services in the home, including monitoring the patient’s condition and administering the necessary medications. For an older person or someone with limited resources who has to travel several miles to a provider, this convenience can ensure they can receive the care they need.
CHWs aren’t intended to be a substitute for providers or clinical care. However, they can be affordable options for reaching underserved members of rural populations who may struggle to obtain quality healthcare due to language barriers, lack of financial resources, or the remoteness of some areas. It is another example of how rural healthcare innovates to meet patients’ needs.
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