Access to health care is essential for a long and healthy life. While everyone deserves health care, some people face difficulty in obtaining it through traditional channels. Community health workers are lay members who serve an important function by connecting a town's underserved residents with medical screening, treatment and education.
Basic Profile of a Community Health Worker
Community health workers are lay practitioners providing basic, low-cost or free medical care to those who may not have regular access to traditional doctors and medical facilities. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were approximately 86,000 community health workers throughout the country in 2000. Some workers provide their services on a volunteer basis, but the majority work for pay. Bilingual skills in another language such as Spanish or Vietnamese are also useful because many clients are immigrants. Although a college degree is not required to become a community health worker, most states have some type of certification or licensing. Training is offered through hospitals or community college programs.
Types of Medical Care Provided by Community Health Workers
The most common role of community health workers is providing care for women's health and nutrition. Other common types of care include child health, prenatal and pregnancy care, immunisation and sexual health issues such as birth control. Health workers also teach community members about asthma, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancer and heart disease. They also educate people about self-care and habits that can impact health, including information about nutrition, smoking cessation and medication compliance.
Provide Health Screenings and Links to Resources
Community health workers help people locate further resources in their community when needed. These workers may also conduct screenings of high-risk populations for indicators of present or impending disease, including diabetes testing, sexually transmitted disease and HIV/AIDS testing and cholesterol screening. They may provide referrals, give transportation to medical appointments and help patients obtain medications and medical equipment.
Trained community health workers can act as first responders in an emergency. Remote areas may not have a fire brigade or ambulance nearby, so a community health worker could practice emergency care before the patient can get to a hospital. Some examples of a health worker's duties include performing CPR, stopping bleeding or using a defibrillator. This immediate response may prevent further damage or even death.
Benefits of Community Health Workers
Community health workers save money. Lay health care practitioners are able to deliver care at a lower cost than traditional medical staff, helping those who may otherwise not be able to afford access. Community health workers also help serve rural or remote areas, which may not be served by traditional doctors. Immigrants and those with limited education may have language barriers or a fear of the formal medical establishment, and health workers from within the community are more likely to gain trust.
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