Peer Support Can Reduce Blood Pressure in Type 2 Diabetes Patients

by Barbara Hewitt on March 24, 2015

Group based peer support for people with type 2 diabetes could help prevent health complications, reduce hospitalisations, save lives and limit the burden on health budgets, new research has found.

Indeed the world’s largest study of diabetes peer support, where one person with diabetes helps guide others, conducted in the UK, has shown it can significantly lower blood pressure in patients with type 2 diabetes and potentially reduce their risk of serious complications.

healthcareThe study of 1,299 people was led by Professor David Simmons, from Cambridge University Hospitals and the University of Western Sydney School of Medicine, and Dr Jonathan Graffy, from the University of Cambridge.

Professor Simmons and his colleagues found patients from Addenbrooke’s Hospital participating in group based diabetes support were successful in lowering their systolic blood pressure number, which is pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts, by 2-3mm Hg (millimetres of mercury) after eight to 12 months.

‘If a patient can reduce their blood pressure by just a few points over the long term, it could be enough to significantly improve their health and reduce their risk of heart attack by 2% to 4% and stroke by 4% to 6%,’ said Simmons.

In the randomised cluster controlled trial, 652 people participated in ‘group peer support’, which was delivered by well trained and clinically supported peer support facilitators (PSFs).

PSFs were drawn from the same local community as the participants in the trial. They were encouraged to be non-directive and use listening skills to support peers in their efforts to overcome day to day ‘barriers’ to managing their diabetes and its effects on everyday life.

‘It was important the peer facilitators remained socially and emotionally connected to their peers. Rather than telling people what to do the facilitators worked with people to find ways to fit their diabetes into day to day living,’ Simmons explained.

Dr Graffy emphasised the importance of linking peer support programmes to local health services. ‘One of the reasons people agreed to join the support groups is that they were invited by their local general practices. Those who agreed to facilitate the groups were given training by the local diabetes service and ongoing mentorship from a specialist diabetes nurse. This helped sustain their interest in the role,’ he said.

Professor Simmons added that more research is needed to explain how participating in the peer support group lowered blood pressure. ‘Those in the peer support groups didn’t have better medication compliance or do more physical activity compared to others in the trial, factors which may have explained the lowered blood pressure. The activity of social support itself may have had a direct impact on blood pressure,’ he said.

He believes that the results could lay the foundation for a new approach to type 2 diabetes healthcare. ‘Type 2 diabetes is a complex and costly global health crisis. Group based peer support could help prevent health complications, reduce hospitalisations, save lives and limit the burden on health budgets. We are looking at the hospitalisation costs currently, but the data has been persuasive enough for Diabetes UK to set up a programme based upon our work, piloting across parts of the East of England and the Midlands,’ he added.

Deirdre Kehoe of Diabetes UK’s Type 2 Together programme welcomed the study results. ‘We are very excited to be able to build upon our existing peer support work to offer a new approach to those who want to know more about managing their diabetes. Early feedback from the programme is positive and we look forward to seeing its overall impact on participants’ lives,’ she said.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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