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People living with chronic conditions have a great deal to offer one another in terms of knowledge and emotional support. Peer support formalizes this interaction and makes it more widely available to patients.
Peer support provides practical, social, and emotional support. But the support comes from a person with personal experience of the challenges of that diagnosis or issue. Someone that can truly embody compassion for that particular plight.
Evidence backs that peer support is effective. It fosters sustained life style changes for people with chronic diseases and other conditions, and its benefits extend to members of the community and organizations that provide these services.
Peer support models can help health systems with resource constraints especially in the face of the increasing numbers of patients living with diabetes and/or other chronic conditions.
Overall, studies have found that peer and other forms of social support:
- Decreases morbidity and mortality rates
- Increases life expectancy
- Increases knowledge of a disease
- Improves self-efficacy
- Improves self-reported health status and self-care skills, including medication adherence
- Reduces use of emergency services
Peer Support complements and enhances health care services by creating a practical bridge for patients to obtain the emotional, social and practical assistance necessary for managing their disease and staying healthy.
Peer Support can take many forms and styles but in general the core functions include:
- Emotional and social support
- Assistance with disease management or prevention in daily life
- Linkage to clinical care
- Access to ongoing support.
Peer support programs are well established in the areas of diabetes management, mental health and substance use disorders.
Diabetes peer support is very useful for patient to learn to manage the practical side of medication administration, adjustments in case of meal changes, foot care, glucose monitoring, diet, etc.
In mental health and substance use disorder peer support offers a way to engage a population that is generally leery of medical services. A peer is one of them, a person that can help navigate the system and clarify steps and dispel fears with intimate understanding of where the person is coming from.
A peer supporter is NOT:
· A counselor, such as a licensed psychologist or mental health professional
· A certified educator, such as a certified diabetes educator (CDE)
· A registered dietician
· A health care professional, such as a physician or nurse
The benefits of peer support extend to the peers themselves, they feel empowered, useful, report less depression, heightened self-esteem and self-efficacy, and improved quality of life.
It is imperative that health systems foster the development of peer support models to facilitate access to patients and society as a whole.