Background: With an expanding Hispanic/Latino community in the United States, practitioners and researchers working to promote health and prevent disease have relied on lay health advisor (LHA) models to address a variety of health issues. The primary goal of this systematic review was to explore how LHA approaches have been used and evaluated within Hispanic/Latino communities in the U.S.
Methods: Ten literature databases were searched from their inception through July 2006, using keywords associated with LHA approaches. This review consisted of human studies that included adult Hispanics or Latinos of either gender, were conducted in the U.S., were published in English-language peer-reviewed journals, and contained enough abstractable information. Data abstraction was completed independently by three data abstractors using a standardized abstraction form that collected intervention characteristics and study results.
Results: A total of 172 studies were identified and 37 met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 28 included female LHAs exclusively and five included a small number of male as well as female LHAs. Training for LHAs ranged from 6 to 160 hours. Primary roles of LHAs included: supporting participant recruitment and data collection, serving as health advisors and referral sources, distributing materials, being role models, and advocating on behalf of community members. Fourteen studies found evidence of effectiveness.
Conclusions: Given the long history of using LHAs as an approach to health promotion and disease prevention and the current emphasis of LHA approaches as a potential solution to health disparities in general, and among Hispanics/Latinos in particular, few rigorous studies have been published that document the effectiveness of LHAs on a variety of public health concerns. A stronger empirical evidence base is clearly needed.