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Cheat Sheet

Community advisory boards

Key Takeaways
  • Community advisory boards are made up of community members who help guide health systems and service lines as they address health disparities.
  • Community advisory boards can be representative of an entire geographic area, or they can specifically focus on marginalized groups.
  • An effective community advisory board builds a strong, trust-based relationship between health care leaders and the people they serve. A community advisory board enable free-flowing exchange of information that can be used to more efficiently address health disparities. This deliberate, organized form of community representation is critical to creating interventions grounded in and designed for a health care organization’s specific community.

What is it?

Community advisory boards (CABs) are made up of community leaders and stakeholders who advise health care leaders on the needs of the local population and partner with the health care organization to ensure access to high-quality health care. Community groups can advise health care leaders on a variety of projects, such as customer service, facility planning, or workforce development. This cheat sheet focuses specifically on CABs that address health disparities. By listening to marginalized groups’ needs and opinions, health leaders can better serve patients by creating initiatives, research, and resources that address the community’s true barriers to care and wellness, as opposed to those perceived by health system and service line leaders.

Whole health systems and individual service lines can both benefit from CAB guidance. Service line CABs are more targeted and can set their own priorities, which might get lost in the larger health system CAB. Their structure, function, and goals, though, are similar.

CABs can be designed to represent all patients within a geographic area or specific underserved groups in the community, regardless of neighborhood. It is also common to have one central CAB that represents an entire catchment area, and then smaller, priority focused committees under it.

The leaders on a CAB should represent diverse people and occupations. Leaders could include minority health care providers and researchers, state and government officials, members of social and health justice agencies, representatives from public schools, or community health workers.

Example of CAB projects include working with health care leaders to find novel ways to disseminate health information to the community, designing a pipeline for minority health care workers, guiding clinical research on relevant topics, and creating culturally sensitive resources.


Why does it matter?

Most health system and service line leaders recognize that health disparities exist. However, because health administrations are rarely representative of the full community they serve, health leaders on their own often struggle to identify the underlying drivers of these disparities, prioritize between them for intervention, and design community-centric research and initiatives. CABs inject their insight on health disparities into health-leaders’ analyses and decision-making. Together, community and health care leaders create solutions that will engage the local population and target the most important issues. CAB leaders can also spread vital information to educate their community on critical health information and research.

Additionally, CABs help forge a long-term, meaningful relationship between a health system and the people it serves. Through regular meetings with CABs, service line leaders can listen to the community’s needs provide better service. The trust this relationship can build is vital when conducting outreach, receiving feedback, disseminating information, and recruiting – even in areas other than reducing health disparities.

Health care leaders who identify disparities in their community and are looking to holistically address the issues should consider CABs a good place to start.


How does it work?

CABs usually represent an entire catchment area and are used to help guide health care leaders through the process from identification of disparities, prioritization of initiatives, and finally intervention.

The first step in creating a CAB is recruitment. CABs are usually made up of 25 to 50 members. To select members for a CAB, service lines can use either open or targeted recruiting.

  • Open recruiting: Publicize a CAB to different individuals, groups, and organizations that have historically served a particular community. Anyone can attend the initial meetings, and regular attendees constitute the formalized CAB.
  • Targeted recruiting: Select community members through a formal application and review process.

Consider electing a chairperson from the community to be the leader, or have co-chairs with one representative from the community and one from the hospital. Different CABs meet with varying frequency, but usually convene at least once a quarter, with subcommittees meeting more frequently as needed.

The CAB’s first meetings should be about establishing trust and setting an agenda to ensure that issues important to both health leaders and the community will be discussed. Health leaders might have data showing the most common or serious disparities a community faces, while community members will have knowledge of the distinct barriers they face that cause the disparities in the first place. By facilitating an open discussion where this information is shared, the CAB can create an agenda that outlines which disparities should be tackled first.

Note that it’s important to set expectations with all CAB participants that everyone will listen to feedback, be flexible, and make the changes needed to work together in the fight against health disparities.

Conversations you should be having
  1. Use data available to your health system to determine where
    the disparities in your community exist. Decide if a health
    system-wide or service line-specific CAB could be part of the

  2. Pinpoint the demographic groups, community leaders, and
    organizations that need to be part of your CAB to create a
    representative sample of your community.

  3. Create clear expectations for what the CAB is, its purpose,
    and how it will involve community members.

  4. Share your understanding of the disparities facing the
    community with the CAB. Listen to their feedback and insight,
    and use this shared information to create targeted areas for

When having the conversations above, it is important to loop in your health system decision-makers, or have them be part of the CAB, to ensure that projects and initiatives have the proper backing to get done.

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