How community health workers can improve your patients' health


A new recommendation for preventing cardiovascular disease based on an in-depth evidence review calls for engaging community health workers to help patients manage risk factors.

The Community Preventive Services Task Force, a group that identifies population health interventions and makes recommendations to health departments and communities, last week released its findings on how engaging community health workers in a team-based care model can improve patients’ blood pressure and cholesterol.


The findings support interventions that engage these workers for health education, outreach and enrollment in programs. Community health workers also can serve as information agents who help increase important healthy behaviors such as physical activity, beneficial eating habits and smoking cessation in patients at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Most of the studies included in the review focused on community health workers and minority and medically underserved groups, suggesting these interventions can be effective in improving minority health and reducing health disparities.

Community health workers serve as the bridge between communities and health care systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They have a close understanding of the community they serve and are trained to provide culturally appropriate health education and information, offer social support and informal counseling, and connect people with needed services. In some cases, they also deliver health services such as blood pressure screening.

Identifying local ways to control blood pressure

To help control blood pressure, community health workers can help patients learn how to reduce their daily intake of sodium, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They may also work with patients to find easy, less expensive ways to increase the intake of fruits and vegetables and ways to stay active in patients’ neighborhoods.

Community health workers are crucial because one in three adults has high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Through its Improving Health Outcomes initiative, the AMA is helping physicians improve blood pressure control.

The AMA and participating physicians and care teams are working with researchers at the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality and the Johns Hopkins Center to Eliminate Cardiovascular Health Disparities to develop and test evidence-based blood pressure recommendations and provide practical tools for physician practices. The basis of this research led to a framework called the M.A.P. for achieving optimal hypertension control:

  • Measuring blood pressure accurately every time it’s measured
  • Acting rapidly to address high blood pressure readings
  • Partnering with patients, families and communities to promote self-management of high blood pressure

Physicians are encouraged to use community linkages, such as community health care workers, to help their patients manage blood pressure outside of office visits. Watch AMA Wire® in the coming weeks for more on how to engage others in your patients’ care.

Here are more resources to help improve your practice’s hypertension control rates:

  • Get the one infographic you need for an accurate blood pressure reading.
  • Learn everything you need to know about self-measured blood pressure monitoring.
  • Read the three questions you should ask patients when measuring their blood pressure.
  • Hear what other physicians are doing to control hypertension in their practices.