While health care quality improvement teams often involve clinical staff, these teams would benefit from the inclusion of community health workers (CHWs), who can provide insights into patient needs and their experiences with health care and social systems. This paper shares quality improvement tools, methods, and examples for engaging CHWs to address patients’ health-related social needs. CHWs can be a part of all aspects of the quality improvement process for identifying and meeting unmet social needs, including defining the problem and setting aims, assessing process challenges, designing improvements, and defining measures and analyzing data.
CHWs can be instrumental in helping to focus improvement efforts based on insights from their close relationships with patients and understanding of existing gaps that patients experience in health care and social service systems. In process mapping, an exercise used to identify opportunities for improvement within care processes and workflows, CHWs can identify pain points because they help patients navigate complicated systems every day. Finally, CHWs can select measures for quality improvement efforts because they know which ones most accurately reflect the experiences of their patients. Meaningful involvement of CHWs in quality improvement efforts can lead to more effective care team collaboration, facilitate integration of CHWs onto care teams, and potentially lead to increased job satisfaction and retention for CHWs.