Three Mississippi physicians recently traveled to Iran to study its 17,000 "health houses"--rural medical outposts staffed by community health workers--in order to get ideas for improving healthcare in their own state. The World Health Organization ranks Iran's health houses program, where nurse-aides live and work in a rural community and can check in on patients, as one of the world's best, and with Mississippi at or near the bottom of most healthcare indexes (including an infant mortality rate 50 percent higher than the national average, and rising obesity, hypertension and diabetes) the doctors were looking for a better community health delivery system.
After the trip, which required approval from the U.S. Treasury Department (to show they weren't violating sanctions) and the National Institutes of Health, the doctors now are creating a Mississippi version that calls for training nurses' aides in each community, and then sending them door to door to help with basic needs, such as taking blood pressure and improving sanitation. The health workers would refer patients to clinics or hospitals for more advanced care and follow up with home visits.
"The community health workers will know who has diabetes, who has high blood pressure, who is 10 or 12 years old and pregnant," said Dr. Aaron Shirley. "They will know it because they live in the neighborhood and see them at church or the corner store."