Introduction: Type 2 diabetes affects people in their productive years and significantly influences their quality of life. Organized peer support provided by specially trained patients or volunteers who have experience with diabetes can be of crucial importance in supporting a patient's endeavours to lead a healthy lifestyle while managing the disease.
Objective: The aim of this research was to establish whether organized peer support exists in diabetes organizations of the Gorenjska region, Slovenia, and how patients feel about the usefulness of and the need for implementing a peer support system.
Methods: The sample included 78 respondents, accounting for 58.6% of all type 2 diabetes cases treated for the first time at the specialist diabetes clinic of the Jesenice General Hospital in 2009. The participants were given a questionnaire in which they indicated the level of agreement with the given statements on a five-point scale. The Cronbach alpha for all 18 statements was 0.71.
Results: Organized peer support is not yet available for members of diabetes organizations in the Gorenjska region. Most respondents do not perceive diabetes as a source of great emotional stress or as a reason for a lower quality of life. Patients receiving insulin therapy (p=.013), and those with chronic complications (p=.037), reported significant deterioration in quality of life. Women were more eager to learn how their peers manage their lives (p=.045), and to obtain information from experienced peers to help and support them (p=.032). A positive correlation was found between the respondents' opinion that diabetes presents a source of high emotional stress and that shearing experience with peers would help them reduce this stress (r=.517, p=.000); that peer experience would help them in everyday, practical situations (r=.306, p=.007); and that peer experience would help them manage their life with diabetes better (r=.447, p=.000).
Discussion: The research results stressed the need for introduction of peer support. We were surprised by the patients' low level of awareness regarding the benefits they could derive from talking to peers. Peer support interventions would bring the desired level of quality to the concept of personalization in diabetes care. Treatment practices for patients with diabetes in Slovenia have shown that organizing a peer support system is considered an option, but has not yet become a standard practice. Peer support can be a powerful source of empowerment and of individualisation of treatment. Its implementation, however, will have to involve the active participation of members of health care teams treating patients with diabetes.
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