The Potential in Preparing Community Health Workers to Address Hearing Loss

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Abstract

Background:

In underserved areas, it is crucial to investigate ways of increasing access to hearing health care. The community health worker (CHW) is a model that has been applied to increase access in various health arenas. This article proposes further investigation into the application of this model to audiology.

Purpose:

To assess the feasibility of training CHWs about hearing loss as a possible approach to increase accessibility of hearing health support services in an underserved area.

Research Design:

A specialized three-phase training process for CHWs was developed, implemented, and evaluated by audiologists and public health researchers. The training process included (1) focus groups with CHWs and residents from the community to raise awareness of hearing loss among CHWs and the community; (2) a 3-hr workshop training to introduce basic topics to prepare CHWs to identify signs of hearing loss among community members and use effective communication strategies; and (3) a 24-hr multisession, interactive training >6 weeks for CHWs who would become facilitators of educational and peer-support groups for individuals with hearing loss and family members.

Study Sample:

Twelve Spanish-speaking local CHWs employed by a federally qualified health center participated in a focus group, twelve received the general training, and four individuals with prior experience as health educators received further in-person training as facilitators of peer-education groups on hearing loss and communication.

Data Collection and Analysis:

Data was collected from each step of the three-phase training process. Thematic analysis was completed for the focus group data. Pre- and posttraining assessments and case study discussions were used to analyze results for the general workshop and the in-depth training sessions.

Results:

CHWs increased their knowledge base and confidence in effective communication strategies and developed skills in facilitating hearing education and peer-support groups. Through case study practice, CHWs demonstrated competencies and applied their learning to specific situations related to effective communication with hearing loss, family support, availability of assistive technology, use of hearing protection, and making referrals for hearing health care. Needs were identified for ongoing training in the area of use of assistive technology and addressing situations of more severe hearing loss and its effects.

Conclusions:

Initial results suggest it is feasible to train CHWs to engage community members regarding hearing loss and facilitate culturally relevant peer-health education and peer-support groups for individuals with hearing loss and their family members. In efforts to increase access to audiological services in rural or underserved communities, application of the CHW model with a partnership of audiologists deserves further consideration as a viable approach.

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