Community health workers involvement in preventative care in primary healthcare: a systematic scoping review

BMJ Open. 2019 Dec 17;9(12):e031666. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-031666.


Objectives: To review effective models of community health worker (CHW) involvement in preventive care for disadvantaged culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) patients in primary healthcare (PHC) that may be applicable to the Australian context.

Design: Systematic scoping review.

Data sources: The studies were gathered through searching Medline, EMBASE, EMCARE, PsycINFO, CINAHL and online portals of relevant organisations.

Eligibility criteria: All selected studies were original research studies which essentially evaluated preventive intervention undertake by CHWs in PHC. The intervened population were adults with or without diagnosed chronic health disease, culturally and linguistically diverse, or vulnerable due to geographic, economic and/or cultural characteristics that impede or compromise their access to healthcare.

Data extraction and synthesis: Data extraction was undertaken systematically in an excel spreadsheet while the findings were synthesised in a narrative manner. The quality appraisal of the selected studies was performed using effective public health practice project quality assessment tool.

Results: A total of 1066 articles were identified during the initial search of six bibliographic databases. After screening the title, abstract and full text, 37 articles met the selection and methodological criteria and underwent data extraction. A high-quality evidence-base supporting the positive impact of CHWs supporting patients' access to healthcare and influencing positive behaviour change was found. Positive impacts of CHW interventions included improvements in clinical disease indicators, screening rates and behavioural change. Education-focused interventions were more effective in improving patient behaviour, whereas navigation interventions were most effective in improving access to services. Implementation was enhanced by cultural and linguistic congruence and specific training of CHWs in the intervention but reduced by short duration interventions, dropouts and poor adherence of patients.

Conclusion: The evidence generated from this systematic scoping review demonstrates the contribution of CHWs to improving access to preventive care for patients from CALD and disadvantaged backgrounds by providing both education and navigational interventions. More research is needed on CHW training and the incorporation of CHWs into primary health care (PHC) teams.

Keywords: community health workers; culturally and linguistically diverse population; disadvantaged populations; preventive medicine; primary care.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Workers / education*
  • Cultural Competency / education*
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Preventive Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Vulnerable Populations / statistics & numerical data*