2015 PCPCC Fall Conference

Peer Support Services Offer Valuable Patient Engagement

November 18, 2015 08:55 am Michael Laff Washington, D.C. –

Beverley Johnson, president and CEO of the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care, suggests ways practices can determine what patients need outside their physician's office at the 2015 Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative Fall Conference.

When a concerned father told Mary Ann Heran that his daughter, once an enthusiastic student, now hated school and did not want to read, he found more than a sympathetic listener.

Heran, the peer care coordinator for the Rhode Island Patient Information Network(www.ripin.org) has a child with dyslexia, she told listeners at the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative Fall Conference, held here Nov. 11-13. She spoke during a peer support specialist panel discussion about how such support can assist families with health needs.

Heran suspected the father might also have a child with dyslexia, and armed with her personal experience and training, she set out to help him find community resources and navigate barriers to access.

It's the type of help patients and their relatives often need in addition to care they receive from a physician.

"Many parents don't know what resources are available or they are too busy," Heran said. "It's important to listen to parents and give them the resources they need."

Story Highlights
  • Peer support services help patients find community resources they need outside their physician's office.
  • In many cases the services provide emotional support as well as information.
  • Such programs typically rely on grant funding.

In many cases, peer care coordinators offer more than information; they provide emotional support. Heran, who trained as a dental hygienist, talked to the father about testing, as well as about reading classes. Most importantly, she said, she stayed positive.

"Your child will be successful," she told the father.

Heran is part of the state's Pediatric Practice Enhancement Project,(www.commonwealthfund.org) which trains individuals to advise parents of children with special needs. To create a bond with targeted families, peer advisers are themselves parents of children with special needs. They work in primary care practices to help families obtain services they might need outside the physician's office. Heran said her network obtains funding largely through grants from the State of Rhode Island Department of Health and other sources.

Similar networks, such as Family Voices,(www.familyvoices.org) operate nationwide and in different states.

As with many services that could enhance the patient experience during an office visit, payment remains a major hurdle.

"These programs are small and rely on grant funding, so they can't be rolled out in large markets," said Fran Goldfarb, M.A., director of family support at the University of Southern California Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, who also participated in the discussion. "Until we make family support a billable service, it won't be widespread."

Panelists suggested that practices that offer such services should actively seek feedback from families to learn what sort of assistance they need before crises arise.

Beverley Johnson, president and CEO of the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care,(www.ipfcc.org) said physician practices should not rely on patient portals for such comments. Instead, she said, they can ask patients to write out what they most need from office visits when they come in for an appointment or form a patient advisory committee.

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