Diabetes patients who receive peer support benefit from improved control of their blood sugar levels. Research carried out at the University of Michigan Medical School and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that phone calls to peers facing the same self-management challenges helped diabetics manage their conditions better than those who used traditional nursing care management services.
For the study, researchers randomly assigned 244 male patients with uncontrolled diabetes to either peer support or nurse care management. After six months, those in the peer-support group saw a significant drop in their HbA1c levels (a measure of blood sugar over time) ‒ from an average of 8.02 to 7.73 per cent, which represented a 0.58 per cent decrease from those who received care from a nurse.
The researchers also monitored changes in insulin therapy, blood pressure and adherence to oral treatment regimens, and found that patients who received peer support managed their conditions better.
Michele Heisler, lead author of the study, said “Our model was testing the hypothesis that a good way to activate patients was to give them some skills and encouragement to both help and be helped. Just as in education they say that the best way to learn something is to try to teach it.”
“Our program hoped to mobilize patients themselves to realize how much they themselves had to offer another person with diabetes and enjoy the sense of meaning and pleasure that being needed and helping another can provide. That’s why I think people did well – they were very motivated when they felt they were helping someone else.”
She concluded: “Most chronically ill patients need more support for self-care than most health care systems can provide. That’s why programs like this, that increase the quality and intensity of assistance through peer support, deserve further exploration.”