Maybe, if the practice of medicine goes the way Temple University's associate vice dean of health care services Paula L. Stillman thinks it will, community health workers will move from the margins to an integral part of patient care.
And if that happens, what is basically an ad hoc profession will probably require standards and definitions and core competencies and regulation. Stillman wants Temple to be a pace-setter in that conversation.
"Here's the problem," said Stillman, a physician and Temple University Health System's vice president of health care services. "People use the term community health worker without defining what the person's background is, what the level of care is and a lot of the studies that examine the outcomes are soft studies or stories."
As I reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Temple is graduating its first class of two dozen community health workers. Area insurers have helped to underwrite the training costs and in some cases are funding the salaries of the workers in doctors' practices. That means they'll be able to see how exactly how effective these workers are. They'll be able to look at outcomes of patients associated with the workers and those who had no association.
But beyond that, Stillman wants Temple to help set the standard and to help develop the curriculum that will be used in other places.
This is the end of my little blog mini-series. If you want to read any of the other posts, here are the links:
• Wednesday: Who gets the savings for community health workers
• Today: Temple's big ambition: Setting a standard for community health workers