In a recent blog we focused on the role of social media (specifically social networking sites and online support forums) in promoting and maintaining health. In particular, we encouraged the seeking out of online support forums as a means of gaining information and emotional support specific to your needs. We were delighted to come across a short article in the Journal for Patient Compliance that touched on the very reasons why patient-to-patient dialogues are important. The article, titled “Choosing Not to Take Medication: How patients can help other patients get better”1, highlights two key benefits arising from interactions between patients. First, patients offer each other valuable insights into living with an illness, and strategies for managing self-care that are drawn from lived experiences. For example, a patient may share with another patient a tip that worked for them in managing a medication side effect. The second benefit relates to the person that is sharing information; namely, the feeling of being useful and/or needed. By helping another person going through a similar experience, a patient gains purpose and meaning to the struggles they have been going through. In peer-support, both sides receive reinforcement making it a genuine win-win situation.
There appears to be something very powerful about support coming from another individual with the same disease (i.e., a ‘peer’) compared to information coming from a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. There have been too few well-controlled studies on this topic, but there is mounting evidence that peer support can improve health. For example, in a recent study of male veterans with diabetes, researchers compared two types of interventions: one given by peers and one given by a nurse. After six months, the patients who were paired with a peer showed greater control of blood glucose levels (i.e., decreased HbA1c levels) than those paired with a nurse. In addition, more patients in the peer support group initiated insulin therapy compared to patients receiving support from a nurse (8 versus 1)2. This study showed that peer support leads to both measurable changes in physical health and increases in health-related behaviors.
In summary then, peer support provides a wide range of benefits that directly and indirectly lead to better health. We encourage you to seek out a peer (i.e., someone dealing with the same health issue or someone trying change the same health-related behavior) and foster a relationship and open dialogue with them. What have you got to lose? This blog proves you both have a lot to gain.
1. Wilson B, Wong M. 2011. Choosing Not to Take Medication: How patients can help other patients get better. J Patient Compliance 1: 8-9. http://www.patientcompliancemedia.com/jpc/choosing-not-to-take-medication-how-patients-can-help-other-patients-get-better/
2. Heisler M, Vijan S, Makki F, Piette JD. 2010. Diabetes Control with Reciprocal Peer Support Versus Nurse Care Management: A randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 153: 507-515.