Peer Workers As the Health Workforce in Japan: Broadening the Concept of "Health Workforce" and Current Challenges

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:44
Oral Presentation
Takuya MATSUSHIGE, National Institute of Public Health, Japan
In recent health workforce policies, the employment of peer workers—lay persons engaged in health and social care services—has increasingly become common internationally. Evidence has shown that peer worker-based interventions increase service user empowerment. These situations resulted in broadening the concept of “health workforce,” which used to refer to skilled professional workers in general.

In Japan, patients, family members, and community residents have increasingly been involved in the provision of health and social care, and some are paid workers employed by local governments and healthcare organizations. The present study analyzes various cases of the implementation of peer workers in health and social care in Japan and clarifies challenges behind it.

Different levels of challenges have been found through analyzing these cases. First, there is a challenge in the lack of understanding of the usefulness and role of peer workers. As there is a large perception gap about peer roles among health service workers, recruitment methods, collaboration with health professionals, and working conditions have been uneven.

Second, related closely to the first point, there is a problem in human resource development. Several studies have shown that peer workers have rich experiences of illness as patients, which are useful in health and social care services if their way of sharing those experiences with service users can be properly developed. However, in many cases, peer workers are regarded as “quasi-professional,” and their training is based on knowledge transmission and technical acquisition as common features of professional education, although, as pointed out in previous works, approaches to supporting service users are not the same between health professionals and peer workers.