Issue Brief

No. 846

Community Health Workers: A Front Line for Primary Care?
September 17, 2012


Lisa Sprague, MBA


Among the potential changes invoked in discussions on health system transformation, a need to revitalize primary care remains paramount. One way of doing this, most agree, is to move more in the direction of team-based care. Professionals such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners may be able to ease some of the physician’s clinical care load, but some populations also need help accessing services and basic health education in a familiar setting. Enter the community health worker (CHW), known by many titles and playing a variety of roles, who comes from the community he or she is serving and therefore can interact with and effectively motivate clients. This paper examines what CHWs do, how they are trained, and the outlook for their incorporation into mainstream health care, as well as the challenges for developing the profession further.

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