A new research from the University of Michigan Health System has revealed that phone calls with a peer facing the same self-management challenges helped diabetes patients manage their conditions and improved their blood sugar levels better than those who used traditional nurse care management services alone.
The findings showed the peer partner program resulted in lower glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels after six months among men with uncontrolled diabetes.
The research was based on a peer partnership program established by the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Health System and the University of Michigan Medical School.
Each peer pair received initial brief training in peer communication skills and was expected to communicate by telephone at least once a week about their mutual efforts to improve diabetes control.
"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," says study lead author Michele Heisler.
"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 added.
In the peer support group, researchers randomly assigned 244 patients with uncontrolled diabetes to either peer support or traditional nurse care management.
The patients who were randomly assigned to the peer support program achieved HbA1c levels that were 0.58 percentage points lower on average than those in the nurse care management group.
And patients in the peer support group with baseline HbA1c levels greater than 8 percent achieved a mean decrease of 0.88 percentage points, compared with a 0.07-percentage point decrease among those in the nurse care management group.
Heisler says this is the first randomised controlled trial to examine reciprocal peer support in chronic disease management.
"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," she concluded.
The findings are published in Oct. 19 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.