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5 Reasons to Cross-Train Your Healthcare Team as CHWs

Cross-training is a way to muscle up your healthcare organizations. It’s a technique often used to increase capacity among various nonclinical workers.

Using cross-training on an entire healthcare team on the core competencies of health promoters like community health workers (CHWs) and promotores can strengthen teams, improve client and patient care, and increase team efficiency.

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What Is Cross-Training?

Cross-training is a method of spreading knowledge among a team by creating a baseline education among all team members. In casual circumstances, it might be as simple as an employee coaching others on their daily responsibilities during a lunch break or a more in-depth program to cross-train staff in primary care.

But it can also be a wider and more impactful program in healthcare agencies of all employees are cross-trained as CHWs. Most CHW training programs are accessible, easy to integrate with existing schedules, and applicable to anyone on a health staff.

The practice helps boost cohesion in the workplace because everyone understands what the CHW does and can immediately apply those skills to their day-to-day jobs. If you’re new to building an online training program for healthcare, start with learning about these benefits.

5 Benefits of Cross-Training Your Team as CHWs

  1. Excellent return on investment
  2. Promotes respect for CHWs
  3. Increases everyone’s knowledge
  4. Better team efficiency and collaboration
  5. Builds pathways for promotions and responsibilities

Excellent Return on Investment

CHWs are proven to improve health outcomes and lower costs for patients and health systems, so just imagine what could happen if you applied those skills to your entire team. Suddenly, everyone understands how to promote healthier eating for managing diabetes or navigating health insurance in simple terms or connecting patients and clients to the best specialist in your network or community.

The benefits to clients expand exponentially because they’re being supported at all touch points. Your agency is working together better and maximizing its budget.

Plus, you never have to hire a temp agency again. If your CHW needs to take time off, anyone can step in. This means that your CHWs can take off a year, a month, a vacation or even an hour for lunch. A nurse, a receptionist, an MA, a physician, a volunteer–anyone is able to answer calls, schedule appointments, connect to others. This means patients are happier and better looked after too.

Promotes Respect for CHWs

CHWs are in an awkward place in many healthcare agencies. They’re more focused on saving costs than earning money. So in a health center, for example, administrators are sometimes happier to support high earners like orthopedic surgeons than a CHW or promotora who’s trying to prevent someone coming into the hospital in the first place.

Cross-training a healthcare team can demonstrate the important and unique role of a CHW. This builds respect and understanding among the whole team. Finally, everyone else can understand what a CHW does.

 

Increases Everyone’s Knowledge

Healthcare specialists are important. All agencies need expert RNs and dietitians. But they also need expert RNs and dietitians that can motivate for change and know who to contact for Spanish interpretation in your agency.

Cross-training means your staff can support clients and patients at any stage of their wellbeing—especially if that person has complex healthcare needs. Anyone has the knowledge to help people with various diseases and conditions in different areas they might not be familiar with. Cross-trained staff are more comfortable and sensitive when supporting these clients and patients.

Better Team Efficiency and Collaboration

If a multidisciplinary team knows what the other members do, they can better communicate, coordinate job functions and patient care, and understand each other more clearly. Whenever people work together closely, they can offer suggestions for improvement and share their personal expertise.

This means that CHWs that are integrated into care teams can also understand workflows and the needs of other team members faster and intuitively. The upshot is teams get along better and need to do less explaining. This creates a more supportive environment for patients and CHWs.

Builds Pathways for Promotions and Responsibilities

CHWs who learn about others’ jobs become better at their own, and they’re also in a better position for promotion. When you cross-train healthcare employees to be CHWs, you open up the opportunity for CHWs to know more about how the rest of the care team works. They can then build other skills that can take them on to jobs with greater responsibility and breadth. This makes for happier, self-motivated employees all around.

7-Step Plan to Strong Core Competencies

Frontline health workers are the core of your organization and bringing new hires up to speed should be as steady as a healthy heart.

That process of training health workers, including community health workers or promotores (CHWs/Ps), in core competencies should be repeatable and worry-free, but it’s not always.

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The problem is that some CHWs/Ps are brand new to the job and responsibilities, and others have decades of experience. Others still transfer to the position from a clinical background, such as nursing, and have different skillsets or must learn new job boundaries.

Not providing consistent training to these team members, their supervisors–and potentially the whole multidisciplinary care team—is trouble. Work doesn’t get done or done incorrectly, people step on each other’s toes, and it sparks friction among employees.

Why CHW Training Doesn’t Happen

CHWs/Ps have detailed jobs, they’re uniquely positioned in an agency, and they need to know how to do them. Most supervisors and program managers agree on that. But not all CHWs do. Why? Because some people are …

  • Confused about their job and don’t know how to ask for training
  • Nervous or embarrassed about asking supervisors for job training
  • Resistant to training support, especially if they feel they already know all there is to know
  • Overwhelmed supervisors who are juggling multiple job duties without adding training on top of it.

To add to the problem, CHWs/Ps are often considered to be at the bottom of the agency hierarchy, and decisionmakers decide to skip training.

In healthcare, the consequences of neglecting a core training plan are costly. At worst, clients and patients might not get the care they need. Or maybe it’s just that internal staff are confused, and that heaps onto your heap of management duties. The upshot is you’re pulled away from your regular work to address training gaps or its consequences.

So what do you do if you have a team that needs core competency training but aren’t sure where to start? Lucky for you, this problem has already been solved. Read on.

7-Step Plan to Strong Core Competencies

  1. Give CHWs a detailed job description.
  2. Find gaps.
  3. Document obsessively.
  4. Set time on the calendar for training and check-ins.
  5. Set up ongoing training.
  6. Don’t skimp on the training budget.
  7. Ask an expert to help you with your training plan.

Give CHWs a detailed job description.

Some agencies fail immediately because they don’t have a set job description for the CHW/P. But no one can do a good job if they don’t know what the job is. Create an overview of the job in writing, and a bulleted list of what each duty is. It can be helpful to create a job workflow to think of all possible tasks and how they’re implemented. If you’re at a loss, you could always start with something like Integrating Community Health Workers into Primary Care Practice from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

Many employers fail at effective onboarding right off the bat. Your new recruits won’t get off to a good start without absolute clarity about their responsibilities. Give them an overview in writing, as well as a bullet-pointed list of their primary duties. I find it helpful to rank the importance of these tasks to assist them in their prioritization process.

Find gaps.

Most agencies have at least some kind of internal training, and many have strengths in core competency areas like service coordination or ethics. Document what those training strengths are and then look for the weaknesses. Those gaps will tell you where you need to build out a comprehensive core competency training program.

If you’re looking for a list of competencies, read Most Important Job Skills To Build a CHW Career Path.

 

Document obsessively.

People leave their jobs for any number of reasons and programs evolve. Whatever you figure out now, document it so you can repeat it for the next time. Having a training process in place will help it go more smoothly.

You don’t have to do it yourself, by the way. Ask your current employees to write out what processes they use to complete their tasks. This might even be you if you’re just starting a CHW program, so write whatever you can when you can.

Set time on the calendar for training and check-ins.

Many unsuccessful training programs fail because there’s no urgency to complete or allotted time. You can solve both problems by setting a training framework, including:

  • Set up one-on-one times with you or a job peer to ask questions
  • Allow staff one day or afternoon a week just for training
  • Expand weekly training allowances include what CHWs/Ps should be learning all year.

Set up ongoing training.

Training isn’t a one-and-done event. It’s iterative and goes on to address the needs of clients, patients, and health trends. Implement a continuous learning strategy so you can help your staff always be aware of changes in guidelines and new skills.

Don’t skimp on the training budget.

When you’re figuring out how much to budget for your annual training plan, think about all the staff that should and can be trained under the same umbrella. CHWs/Ps need set courses for core competencies, but those courses can also be helpful for other staff or that might support other programs. That will help define where funding comes from and how much you can get from your investment.

Deciphering the true costs of online training is a complicated task that can easily reach beyond the boundaries of any grant or budget line item. Broaden your search to dig up all the costs you and your colleagues might be feeding into training–and identify ways to trim.

Your agency will set the training budget that fits, but make sure you have enough resources so you can do it right.

Ask an expert to help you with your training plan.

Successful CHW/P training covers core competencies and also many other nuances of client and patient care you might not have thought of. For example, a breast cancer screening course is better implemented with an outreach skills course.

An expert can take into consideration all your agency’s needs and strengths and make recommendations. The expert might be a partner agency, someone who set up a CHW training program at a different agency, or one of CHWTraining’s education consultants.

When a CHW/P core competency plan is set and your team is successfully completing it, everyone profits. Give your staff a chance to succeed, and your agency and community will benefit from a strong core.

The Coronavirus Is Changing the Community Health Workforce. The Shifts May Be Here to Stay

Being a community health worker or promotora (CHW/P) now isn’t the same as it was in January. And the job might never be the same again. Public health departments, health plans, agencies, vocational high schools—all manner of health care systems in the United States are rethinking what it means to hire, train, and integrate CHW/Ps and other frontline health workers because of the coronavirus.

Since COVID-19 swept across the U.S., the many agencies and individuals are rethinking much of their CHW/P workforce: how new CHW/Ps are trained as they enter the job, what kinds of skills new and experienced workers need in a new health landscape, and even how they work as part of multidisciplinary healthcare teams.

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While some of the job changes are born out of necessity, some are simply a better way of working and connecting to clients and patients.

Here’s a closer look at three key ways in which the CHW/P job has changed and will probably stay.

In-Person Training Will Move Online

Virtual training is necessary because it’s not safe for many learners, trainers, and staff to safety travel to on-site locations. As time goes on, and as more health experts and communities warn that opening the country too soon could result in suffering and death, and critically for CHW/Ps, the ability to support underserved communities when they need it most.

The Washington State Department of Health usually offers in-person training across the state four times per year as part of its hybrid CHW training program. This year, however, just as the program was ready to offer its spring session, the state went on lock-down orders.

Washington is one of many organizations that say some or all training for CHW/Ps through the summer and fall is being provided online. Vocational high schools that train CHWs and other medical tech workers are also moving to an online format. We at CHWTraining have an entire team dedicated to creating a wide variety of courses and certifications to educate health workers no matter where they are so they can grow their careers.

CHW/Ps Will Use Telehealth

Telehealth, or telemedicine, is another domain that wasn’t part of many CHW/P tasks until recently. This is good news, because telehealth is a proven strategy to engage and support clients, especially those in rural communities. Now, most people are remote, and the same strategy of communicating with clients for long-distance health care and education works.

Exactly how CHW/Ps will use telehealth to connect with their clients is still evolving.

“Telehealth policy changes occurring within the COVID-19 environment have been rapidly developing on almost a daily basis,” according to Center for Connected Health Policy.

Some of the common ways telehealth is used, according to the Center, include:

  • Video conferencing in a live, two-way interaction between a patient and a provider
  • Store-and-forward technologies to transmit medical information, such as digital images, documents, and pre-recorded videos
  • Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) to send personal health and medical data collection from a patient in one location to a provider in a different location
  • Mobile Health (mHealth) to support clinical and public health services and education on mobile devices such as phones and tablets
  • eConsult for providers to consult with specialists via live video conferencing or store-and-forward.

Skill Areas Will Evolve

Health education, outreach, referrals, and understanding health disparities are all important skills that CHW/Ps provide on a daily basis. Those are more important than ever in a pandemic. Prevention is essential to protecting the lives of people in low-income communities without adequate access to healthcare.

CHW/Ps, for example, can organize hand hygiene stations for homeless and migrant areas. They can use telehealth (see above) to check in with high-risk community members. They can keep people out of overused emergency rooms by teaching skills like understanding how to read and follow an asthma care plan.

Many CHW/P jobs include tasks no one ever imagined a few months ago – sometimes in ways they wouldn’t have thought of. The term “contact tracing” is something associated with CHWs during the Ebola crisis in Africa or cholera in Haiti, but wasn’t really practiced in the United States. CHW/Ps are working within their communities to map cases before it spreads.

Providing social support and behavioral health support are going to be even more important than before.

CHW/Ps Will Be More Integrated

Many healthcare systems that have considered using CHW/Ps, or use them but aren’t sure how they connect with the larger system, will need to change. These organizations’ workforces will need to understand the role of a CHW/P and how it differs from a social worker, case manager, or nurse. When disasters—health and otherwise—effect a community, it’s helpful to have a community-based workforce to minimize its impact.

“Right now there’s a focus on coordinating services for high-risk individuals to meet their health and social needs and help them remain at home safely to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19,” Melanie Bella, chief of new business and policy at Cityblock Health and current chair of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) said in an interview with Center for Health Care Strategies.

“States may want to consider re-focusing efforts on making system changes that increase coordination and alignment,” she advised.

Now more than ever before healthcare systems need to invest in CHW/Ps. They’re essential during pandemics and not.