Background: Access to surgical care is a pressing challenge, particularly for vulnerable populations. Informal and formal community health workers (CHWs), including lay people, increasingly function in pivotal roles in primary care, however, remain disconnected from surgical care in most environments. This study examined the degree to which CHW understanding of surgical conditions could be improved through the use of a pictorially based manual.
Methods: A manual and associated situational problem-solving questionnaire instrument were developed and contextualized through focus groups in Central America. A baseline assessment was obtained. In the program implementation, cohorts of formal and informal CHWs were introduced and trained to use the manual through a short curriculum. Assessment was repeated in program implementation, first with access to relevant manual content only, and then after the teaching session. Participants were also surveyed about manual scheme, usability, and utility.
Results: A total of 100 subjects (67% female) participated in baseline assessment, and 403 subjects (68% female) were assessed through the program implementation. Baseline problem-solving averaged 11.8 (SD 2.46) out of a possible 20 points. Mean score increased to 15.4 (SD 3.10) when participants had access to relevant surgical manual content and again to 15.9 (SD 3.09, p < 0.0001) following participation with an instructive curriculum. Participant score while utilizing the manual correlated with amount of education completed (r = 0.26), but baseline score did not. High readability 389 (96%) and high self-reported willingness for use 398 (96%) were noted.
Conclusion: Baseline familiarity with surgically treatable conditions appears modest among rural Central American populations, and improves with access to a contextualized, pictorial manual focused on recognizing and appropriately referring surgical conditions.