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learning from other countries about community health workers

July 6th, 2018 | 1 min read

By Matthew Loftus

One of my favorite hobbyhorses is community health workers, so I’m delighted to see that someone is trying to study how we might more broadly implement them in the US:

The task force says that involving community representatives in the formal health system would help health authorities gain a clearer picture of the community: Who has insurance? Who should apply for government funds? Who is suffering from chronic conditions? Who needs help following up on a doctor’s appointment? All this information is frequently missing in poor areas of the US.

Community members could help more Americans navigate the complex health system and help reduce the high cost of health care. By offering lifestyle advice and screening for health conditions before they worsen during routine check-ups, they could avoid emergency room visits, which are far more costly. Community health workers could also identify potential crises, such as opioid abuse, early on.

I think the key bit is the part that is hyperlinked (to an article that isn’t really about screening conditions, unfortunately). Right now, too many things (breast cancer screening, vaccinations, basic treatment for high blood pressure and diabetes, smoking cessation) are tied to a doctor’s office. I didn’t go to school for four years and then do 3 years of postgraduate training to check boxes for healthy patients, but that’s what a lot of primary care clinicians end up doing. It would be much better if these services were released from rent-seeking medical professionals and redistributed downwards to a corps of community health workers who could refer patients into the system as needed for problems that are detected — while also working to help their patients quit smoking, exercise more, and eat healthier.

Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at