Tried and new?: Peer Mentoring for Behavior Change

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Thursday I’m going to be interviewed by Daniele Hargenrader . She’s compiling 20+ interviews with PWDs and those who support us about the value we have received and given helping others with diabetes. She will offer the interviews free for a week in November.

It prompted me to go back and read an interview I had conducted a few years ago precisely on this topic of peer-mentoring. It’s here on the Huffington Post. I interviewed, at the time, associate professor and research scientist Dr. Michele Heisler. Heisler was studying the value of peer-mentors and peer-mentor programs.

Heisler confirmed the value doing an unlikely experiment. She paired two low performing patients (high A1Cs) to mentor each other. She also surprised most of her colleagues who heard about her experiment and didn’t believe low-performing patients would improve by mentoring each other. Yet, they did. In an excerpt from my interview below Heisler  explains.

Q: There was something else surprising about your study. None of the patient partners had good control of their blood sugars when they began the program.

MH: That’s absolutely true. When we were planning this a lot of people said to us, “What are you doing?” because all our participants had high A1cs and were struggling to bring down their blood sugar levels. Many people felt that we should keep to a more traditional peer model where one peer with good control helps coach somebody with poor control. Yet for all the reasons I mentioned they were quite able to motivate each other and themselves. Interestingly, the least successful pairs in our pilot were someone with very poor control matched with someone with very good control who didn’t seem to have any problems. The person with poor control said to herself, “Gosh, this person is clearly not like me and I have nothing to offer her.”

Peer-mentoring has always seemed to me an extremely low-cost, high touch way to have people with diabetes help each other, and themselves. And much of the benefit, is not merely improved clinical outcomes, but support, learning real-live tricks (today we’d call them hacks) patients know and use, and lifting depression and lonliness. For the whole interview with Dr. Heisler, click here.

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