Giving Compass' Take:

• Researchers at Health Equity Action share their findings on why more community health workers and peer providers can positively impact health care equity.

• Community health workers and peer providers are currently undervalued in health care. Who can change that? How can we encourage greater awareness of their benefits? 

• Learn about a more specific positive movement involving community health workers.

Given our nation’s demographic and economic context, health system transformation will succeed and remain sustainable only if it also addresses the long-standing health and health care inequities that affect communities of color and other underserved groups.

This report reviews results from nine recent studies funded by the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) that provide further support for including community health workers (CHWs) and peer providers (PPs) as important components of health care delivery that are particularly effective in addressing health and health care inequities. These studies underscore the enormous value of CHWs and PPs, an often overlooked, usually underutilized, yet highly versatile health workforce, as powerful health equity change agents. To facilitate scaling and integration of CHWs and PPs across the health care system, we translate this evidence into equity-focused policy recommendations for advocates to promote and decision-makers to adopt.

We reviewed nine PCORI-funded studies that examined the effectiveness of interventions led by different types of CHWs and PPs across health conditions such as serious mental illness (SMI), chronic diseases, and traumatic physical injury. Study participants were of diverse ethnic, racial, linguistic, socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds, including Black, Latinx, American Indian, monolingual Spanish-speaking, low-income, and rural patients. One study focused solely on women. Informed by our analysis of these studies, we developed 12 health system policy recommendations across four broad policy categories.

Overall, this research adds to the existing evidence of the power of CHWs and PPs as valuable health equity change agents. Advocates, decision-makers, and other health care stakeholders must prioritize the inclusion of this workforce in care delivery teams as a standard practice that health care payment systems support fully and sustainably.