By Eliana Ifill
Community health programs were in a “Ready? Set? Sit still!” mode in 2020. While the need for community health workers and promotores (CHWs/Ps) was clear. However, many were sent home to wait until they could head out and help clients again. And in some cases, many more clients than the year before.
Online learning for CHWs/Ps has never been more necessary.
Working from Home
As communities still go in and out of stay-at-home orders and as health agencies and programs rush to hire more CHWs/Ps, CHWTraining has seen a dramatic uptick in people learning from home. Program managers, supervisors, and program coordinators want to make use of their staff’s time while they’re remote.
Remote learning makes sense. It’s a positive thing for health teams to do while building skills that will be useful into the future–and well into each person’s career.
CHWTraining has seen some trends—some surprising, some not—in popular courses and subject areas. Here’s a round-up of what’s been the most popular this year. We also offer what we think it says about training for public and community health teams.
Care Coordination and System Navigation
One of the most important roles of a CHW or care coordinator is to help members of the community access the care they need to sustain a healthy life. Interest in Care Coordination and System Navigation spiked last year. Partly that’s because it’s central to the core competencies of CHWs and promotores, and it also provides essential skills for working with clients who have a new set of needs in a pandemic.
Managers reported a need for skills like:
- knowing how to navigate health insurance
- helping service providers collaborate in supporting communities
- developing and implementing care plans for patients, and
- connecting patients to the resources they need.
The year 2020 was about the coronavirus pandemic, and it was also about racial equality. Many organizations looked at the gaping health inequity in healthcare and decided to do something about it. Agencies made a move toward improving their internal cultural competency and reducing unintended bias.
CHWs often work with under-served groups such as immigrant communities and diverse races. It’s important for them to understand the nuances of cultural differences and help advocate for proper care. This includes such topics as language barriers, cultural sensitivities like religious beliefs, and translating healthy behaviors into culturally appropriate equivalents. A deep understanding of health disparities is also key in the work of CHWs.
Community Outreach and Engagement
The challenges in community engagement with closures and physical distancing has caused many agencies to double-down on their outreach skills. These skills are increasingly important especially when so many men and women have been skipping their regular preventative care screenings. Now is also a good time to know more about how to provide health education about vaccinations.
Successful CHW programs need to reach the population they serve. Community outreach and engagement means bringing the programs and services to the community. It also means ensuring that people understand how the programs and services can make their lives better.
Managers were looking for ways to build strong outreach strategies in their teams. These strategies include:
- multiple touch points such as traditional media (newspapers, TV stations, and more),
- many more phone calls than before, and
- online platforms such as social media.
Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women in the US, second only to skin cancer. Scientific advances in genetics and genomics have revolutionized the way breast cancer is detected and treated. It’s more important now than ever to help at-risk women–especially those who have limited access to care–to understand their risk and take steps to prevent this disease.
However, breast cancer screening tests, such as mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs, were put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some estimates report reductions in screenings of more than 90%.
In 2020, CHW program managers wanted education in how to educate women about the benefits of routine screenings. They also wanted to help clients understand when, how and what type of testing they require based on family history, medical history, age, and other determinants. A focus on accessing the care they need for successful prevention and/or treatment was in high demand.
Cervical Cancer and HPV
Screenings for cervical cancer and HPV vaccinations were also dramatically reduced in 2020. Many programs increased outreach in this area.
CHWTraining saw a jump in interest of all kinds of cervical cancer information, like symptoms, risk factors, screening tests, diagnosis, and treatment, and how CHWs can help prevent this disease.
Spreading basic information such as that cervical cancer is highly preventable in most developed nations helps. Programs also wanted to know how to reach people who live in rural areas. Likewise reaching those with a low socioeconomic background, including women of color.
Mental health became a daily issue for millions in 2020 in a web of illness, unemployment, childcare, isolation and imminent health risks, food and housing insecurity, domestic abuse and more. Add daily stressors and the results are clear: Depression and anxiety are skyrocketing.
Last year was a big one for courses related to behavioral health, including depression, anxiety, substance use, and mental illness. Enrollment in courses where CHWs could learn to identify risk factors, make referrals, and provide support boomed as a valuable skill to help communities thrive in the midst of uncertainty.
Promoting Healthy Lifestyles
One of the most important things CHWs can do is encourage community members to prevent disease. This can be achieved by educating peers on habits such as eating well, physical activity, preventative care, and behavioral health.
Some of the most popular courses of the year had to do with HEAL programs and other ways of Promoting Healthy Lifestyles. The focus was on giving community members could have an understanding of the concepts behind implementing positive changes and sustaining a healthy life.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects nearly a third of adults in the US. What’s worse, suffering from high blood pressure predisposes patients to stroke, heart disease, and other complications.
Knowing that people with hypertension are at a risk of a more serious outcome of COVID sent more programs to essential training in this area. Here’s a checklist of the best educational skills for a heart healthy program.
With lifestyle modifications and the right care, high blood pressure is preventable. It can even be reversed with proper care, including nutrition, adequate management with medication, and physical activity. CHWs are essential in helping patients navigate this condition to improve their health outcomes and prevent serious complications later on.
Diabetes and Prediabetes
Community health programs wanted foundational training in diabetes last year–as every year. Diabetes is a growing concern. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of people with diabetes in the US went from four million to over 29 million–a 700% increase.
Programs wanted online learning in understanding this condition and patients’ needs so they’re better equipped to help connect them to the best resources.
Like hypertension, people with diabetes are at a higher risk of poor health outcomes with the coronavirus. And many more people are at risk.
It’s common for early stages of diabetes to go undetected. But with the right help, patients can lead healthy, normal lives with this condition.
Communication Skills is always one of the top courses at CHWTraining. It’s a core competency because CHWs are in contact with lots of people in different roles. Not to mention patients themselves.
It’s important to develop the right skills to effectively communicate with healthcare workers, program coordinators, insurance agents, and more. This training helps learners advocate for patients and clients to receive the assistance they need.
The most in-demand communication skills include:
- active listening,
- using layman’s terms (including for describing medical terms),
- building rapport,
- nonverbal communication,
- resolving and avoiding conflict,
- and being able to understand and work within culturally diverse communities.