The influence of observation and setting on community health workers' practices

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To determine whether results from an evaluation that involved observation of community health workers while they performed patient consultations in a hospital reflected normal everyday practices.


Comparison of two samples of ill-child consultations: (i) consultations performed during an evaluation in which we observed community health workers in a hospital in-patient and outpatient department from February to March 2001 and (ii) consultations performed under no observation in villages and documented in clinical registers within the 90 days before the hospital evaluation.


Siaya District Hospital and villages in Kenya.

Study participants

Community health workers.

Main outcome measure

Treatment error indicator, defined as the percentage of consultations where at least one recommended treatment (where recommended treatments were those that were indicated based on community health worker assessments of the child’s condition) was not prescribed.


We analyzed data on 1132 consultations (372 from the hospital evaluation and 760 from the community) performed by 103 community health workers. For all types of consultations combined, the difference between treatment error indicators (hospital minus community) was −16.4 [95% confidence interval (CI): −25.6, −7.1].


We found that community health workers made treatment errors less frequently when they were observed in a hospital in-patient or outpatient department than when they were not observed in the community. Evaluations that involve the observation of community health workers in a hospital setting might overestimate the quality of care that they normally give in their villages.

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