Diabetes peer support in Australia

Highlights from ADS/ADEA: A summary of the ADEA Symposium convened by Professor Jane Speight and Dr Jessica Browne

by Dr Adriana Ventura


At this year’s ADS/ADEA conference, our own Prof Jane Speight chaired an ADEA symposium, focusing on peer support for people with diabetes.

Former ACBRD colleague, Dr Jessica Browne was one of the speakers, relaying the findings of a national survey of Australian adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes conducted in 2015 that assessed perceptions and experiences of, and preferences for, diabetes peer support in Australia. You can read the study report here.  An important finding to emerge was that just 1 in 10 people in Australia currently engage in peer support for their diabetes, yet 1 in 3 would like to do so in the future. Dr Browne acknowledged that health professionals don’t always have the capacity to give people with diabetes the time and support they may need; and sometimes all that people with diabetes really want is to talk with someone who is living through the same experiences.

These sentiments were echoed by Diabetes Australia’s Renza Scibilia, who has type 1 diabetes. “The most valuable thing about peer support is sharing stories with people who get it” said Renza. Renza couldn’t speak highly enough of online peer support communities, like OzDOC, stating that online communities are “the new kitchen table”, offering people from all walks of life a platform to seek and give support. Participants in the 2015 survey also had a strong preference for online support, but currently few groups exist. A major challenge is the lack of funding and consumer engagement to facilitate and maintain such groups.

Diabetes Victoria’s Consumer Engagement manager, Carolyn Jones, was among the symposium speakers, and discussed how Diabetes Victoria is currently facilitating peer support groups around the state. Interestingly, Carolyn reported that there are currently more rural groups running than there are metropolitan groups, suggestive of the isolating nature of diabetes, hence the need for more peer support groups.

A prickly issue to unfold during the symposium was the way in which we define peer support. For some, peer support is simply people with diabetes talking with one another about their diabetes, whereas for others, it requires a more structured approach, which may or may not involve health professionals as facilitators. Prof David Simmons spoke about the current evidence on peer support interventions, including Peers for Progress. He discussed a variety of models, with varying levels of evidence, but showed overall that peer support has many benefits, including improvements in quality of life, HbA1c and BMI. Regardless of the format, all speakers agreed that peer support should always be person-centred.

For more, you can read Dr Jessica Browne’s interview with the Limbic here. Follow the @ACBRD on Twitter to read tweets from this session.