Strengthening Public Health Through Peer Support Programs

In his presidential proclamation declaring April 6–12 National Public Health Week, President Obama said, “Public health is the foundation for a brighter tomorrow.” He urged all Americans to take action to improve the health of our country.

In that spirit, earlier this week close to 60 public health experts from across the country gathered at NCLR’s headquarters in Washington, DC, to discuss how peer support provided by community health workers, or promotores de salud, and other nontraditional health workers can improve primary care in the U.S.

The conference, “Peer Support in the Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) and Primary Care,” was co-hosted by Peers for Progress, the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative, and NCLR. Its objective was to identify and promote effective models of peer support as a way to engage individuals to become more involved in the health prevention and chronic disease management activities of their primary care center. Substantial research points to the benefits of peer support as a way to engage people (including those for whom care services too often fail to reach), educate them on how to prevent and manage disease, and cut down on unnecessary, costly care. Peer support is also effective because it incorporates patients’ perspectives, as well as those of their families, homes, and communities. Ten model programs were featured at the conference.

One program, Alivio Medical Center’s Mi Salud es Primero, was able to reach 90 percent of all patients with type 2 diabetes with peer support. The promotores de salud provided emotional and social support, taught one-on-one and group educational sessions, and linked patients to resources in the community. As a result, HbA1c blood sugar levels declined from 8.26 percent to 8.10 percent across the entire population, which was a very positive finding.

These model programs demonstrate how peer support can serve even more people. Lessons learned and challenges overcome were discussed and will be published in a conference report later this month.

NCLR applauds the many experts in the health care field who promote peer support programs that serve patients well throughout our nation. We can strengthen public health and help bring about a brighter tomorrow by continuing to integrate peer supporters with primary care teams for the benefit of patients everywhere.