Primary Care Resources
Primary care plays a critical role in a patient’s overall health. However, outside of clinical care people are left on their own to manage complex health behaviors needed to live healthily. That’s where peer support comes in!
Here you can find information and resources that can help primary care providers and practices promote and integrate peer support. The material is organized into the following sections:
- What is peer support?
- How does peer support enhance primary care?
- What can I do as a primary care provider to promote peer support?
- How can peer support be integrated with Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) ?
- What program examples and resources can help me promote and/or integrate peer support?
What is Peer Support
Peer support refers to the practical, social, and emotional support from a person sharing similar experiences with a disease or condition. People with a common condition are able to share knowledge and experiences – including some that many health workers do not have.
Peer support is frequent, ongoing, accessible and flexible, and can take many forms. It has four core functions-
- Assistance in daily management
- Social and emotional support
- Linkages to clinical care and community resources
- Ongoing support, extended over time
In a patient-centered primary care setting, primary care providers can initiate behavior changes by telling patients what to do while peer support can help them to implement and sustain those needed behaviors in daily living.
To learn more, please visit What Is Peer Support on our website.
How does peer support enhance primary care?
Peer support complements and enhances primary care services by providing practical, social and emotional support to help people do the things needed in order to live healthily. In the case of chronic disease management that often requires complex behavior changes; routine visits with a primary care provider can help a person with a condition outline steps for reaching their self management goals while peer support can help implement, troubleshoot, and sustain those behaviors needed. Thus, peer support strategies can be used for a variety of health-promoting behaviors, including medication adherence, stress management, diet, exercise, smoking cessation, and management of chronic diseases like diabetes.
Additional ways in which peer support can enhance primary care is through outreach and engaging high priority groups. Because peer supporters frequently come from communities served by primary care organizations, they provide an implicit social network linkage between those communities and the primary care team. At the same time, research has shown that flexible, proactive peer support programs can reach over 90% of “hard to reach” groups who all too often fail to get the clinical and health promotion services they need (Fisher et al. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2009;163: 225-232).
A physician from Laredo, TX commenting on the success of a clinic-based peer support program and what it means for him as a primary care provider: “Now I can practice medicine again.” – Gateway Community Health Center, Inc., Laredo, TX
What can I do as a primary care provider to promote peer support?
Given the limited time that you as a primary care provider can spend with your patients, you can fill this gap by connecting patients with existing peer support resources in your practice, helping the development of peer support programs in your care setting, referring to peer support resources within the broader community.
Also, patient-provider relationship is influential to the health of your patients. Rather than focusing on encouraging patients to simply follow advice, you as a primary care provider can promote peer support by recognizing its importance to your patients and actively encouraging your patients to be engaged in peer support. In this way, you can foster patients’ individual growth and ultimately improve outcomes. Empowering patients to be more involved in their health and health care is key across the continuum of care.
Connect patients with existing peer support programs in your practice
Depending on the health care system, peer support programs may already be in existence. Here are some steps to help you connect patients with peer support programs in your practice.
- Check with your office support staff and care team members to see if your practice offers programs/services that allows patients to connect with others experiencing similar challenges.
- Learn more about these peer support programs and how you can refer patients to them.
- Actively encourage or recommend your patients to participate in these peer support programs.
Help develop peer support programs in your practice
If peer support programs are not available in your practice, you can create a program focused on peer support. Notably, the benefits of peer support are in line with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which aims to lower health care costs and improve quality of care.
While planning to do so, remember to carefully assess your organizational readiness to start a peer support program. This normally involves a comprehensive evaluation of available staff time, funding and other resources, as well as support from key stakeholders and your community collaborators.
To learn more, please visit Start a Program on our website.
Refer to peer support programs in the community
If a primary care setting lacks a preexisting peer support program or does not have the resources to create one, you and your care team can help identify peer support programs outside their communities. We recommend asking your community collaborators if they are currently offering peer support programs. You can also inquire the local health department or major professional association such as American Association of Diabetes Educators for recommendations.
You can also contact us if you need help verifying if the peer support programs identified can meet the needs of your patients.
Having identified credible peer support programs, it is important to create and update a community resources directory that providers can easily access in order to be able to connect their patients easily.
How can peer support be integrated with a Patient-centered medical home (PCMH)?
In the current landscape of health care, the concept of a patient-centered medical home (PCMH) is gaining traction as a way to improve health care in America by transforming how primary care is organized and delivered. Peer support in nature is a patient-centered approach that coincides with the fundamentals of PCMH and can be integrated with PCMH.
Successful cases like the Vermont Blueprint for Health, a statewide public-private initiative, have demonstrated the feasibility and benefits to include peer supporters known as community health teams in the care team. Particularly, peer support can enhance community outreach and facilitate patient-provider communication and shared decision making. In some scenarios, people who are trained to provide peer support (peer supporters) can also be helpful in providing simple preventive care such as screening and patient education.
In 2011, Peers for Progress began planning for a project called Diabetes management through peer support and community outreach from the patient-centered medical home, funded by the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation’s (BMSF) Together on Diabetes Initiative. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate and evaluate the contributions of peer support as a strategy for community outreach, engagement, and patient-centered care for diabetes management. To learn more, please visit the project page on our website.
What program examples and resources can help me promote and/or integrate peer support?
- Peers for Progress Grantee in Texas, WellMed, with 34 primary care clinics in TX, and 4 in FL introduces their clinic-based peer support program for patients with diabetes (the Care Companion Program).
- Vermont Blueprint for Health demonstrates the benefits of inclusion of peer supporters known as community health teams in a medical home setting.
- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Diabetes Initiative supported several projects to provide peer support and other self management support within primary care settings.
- The presentation on starting a diabetes self-management program in a free clinic setting illustrates how to start a peer support program for diabetes self management support in a free clinic.
- A non-US example linking peer support with primary care: Linkage to Primary Care- A Taiwanese Model
- Peer Support As Strategy for Patient Engagement, Prevention and Diabetes Management, a presentation delivered at the 2013 AAFP Scientific Assembly.
- A Peers for Progress presentation to primary health care professionals discusses the needs for and contributions of ongoing support in diabetes self management.
- The New Health Partnerships funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation developed tools for primary care providers and support for diabetes slef-management.
- The American Academy of Family Physicians and TransforMed (a Peers for Progress BMSF project partner) have developed wonderful resources to help physicians turn their practices into qualified patient-centered medical homes.