One of my favourite sessions at this year’s ADS-ADEA conference was the peer support symposium. Not only did it cover one of my favourite topics, but it also provided me with valuable insights into the work carried out by the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes (ACBRD) and Diabetes Victoria.
Renza took to the stage with her personal story, which I’m sure many consumers in the room could identify with. People with diabetes only receive a few hours of clinical support each year. They turn to peer support because it’s easily accessible, and in the case of the Diabetes Online Community, it’s available 24 hours a day.
The point that most resonated for me was the importance of timing. I know that I wouldn’t have been ready or willing to meet other people with diabetes at the age of 17, nor would I have seen any value in doing so. But today, having connection to people who simply ‘get’ it is so very valuable.
It brought me to this idea of the strong bond that diabetes creates among peers. As Renza touched on peers helping peers with diabetes, it really reminded me of how much more trusting we are of each other because of our condition. I’ve certainly gone out of my way to help other people with diabetes, some of whom I barely know. If only more of our healthcare professionals could foster this much trust, imagine how much better they would be able to support their patients?
Later in the session, Dr Jessica Browne of the ACBRD took to the stage to highlight some recommendations for peer support in Australia. Only 11% of survey respondents were taking part in peer support, suggesting that many programs did not have enough reach.
When I look at some of the communications from diabetes organisations, I would have to agree. I don’t often see weekly OzDOC chats promoted. People’s insightful blogs aren’t often shared. I don’t see cross promotion of events here in Perth from some of the leading diabetes centres. Technology companies are too focussed on marketing their products, and could definitely employ a bit more of a community focus. We are not enemies, nor should we be viewing each other as competition. We really should be supporting each other in order to better serve our communities and promote choice.
Unsurprisingly, 1 in 3 survey participants had not discussed their involvement in peer support with their healthcare professional, and 1 in 10 believed that it would not be endorsed. Dr Browne touched on the need for more heathcare professionals to link their patients up to peer support, which I wholeheartedly agreed with. It took me five years before I began to uncover some of the many forms of peer support out there. Online alone there are closed Facebook groups, Twitter chats, diabetes Instagrammers, people’s blogs and forums such as Reality Check and TuDiabetes. The possibilities are endless, and without peer support I would not be in such a good place today both physically and emotionally.
The elephant in the room was addressed, with Dr Browne and many consumers in the room expressing that peer support complements, rather than replaces the advice of a healthcare professional. Yet I felt that a conference targeted at diabetes healthcare professionals and promoting patient centred care really missed a golden opportunity to give them a taste of something that we were telling them was so valuable. There were no Tweet stands or promotional material in the conference bags to encourage healthcare professionals to get online. There was not one tweet throughout the whole conference from the @ADSADEA twitter account. The #ADSADEA2017 hashtag was largely flooded by the consumers in attendance.
Carolyn Jones was the final person to take to the stage, and she provided an impressive insight into how Diabetes Victoria engage with their peer support groups to more effectively deliver programs and events that consumers want. She touched on the need for choice so that the consumer could pick the option that suited them best, as well as the need for any peer support to empower the consumer. There are 80 peer support groups running across Victoria consisting of type 1, type 2, mixed groups and online groups. I feel that other states pale in comparison. There were more in rural than metro areas. More of the in person support groups were type 2 specific, which was reassuring to hear given that type 2s aren’t very active in online support.
A massive thank you to everyone involved in putting together such an insightful session. I felt that our consumer perspective on peer support was both championed, and nicely complemented with the research and evidence.
Disclosures: Diabetes Australia provided me with a media pass to attend the ADS-ADEA 2017 conference, with the view that I was interested in attending and delivering my own honest insights to the wider diabetes community.