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Peer Support May Bring Better Control of Diabetes
Date:10/21/2010

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Pairing people with diabetes who are struggling to control their blood sugar levels with their peers for weekly support sessions could be an effective and inexpensive way to help manage the disease, researchers say.

Such a program was linked with significantly reduced blood sugar levels in male veterans with diabetes, according to a new study appearing in the Oct. 19 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The authors initially identified almost 1,700 veterans who might be eligible for the trial, but were only able to enroll 244. The 200-plus participants, all male, were randomized either to be matched up with another diabetes patient for weekly peer support and the option of attending group sessions, or to undergo one educational training and then receive care from a nurse care manager.

According to study author Dr. Michele Heisler, this model of peer support is less hierarchical than most systems in the United States.

"We explicitly wanted to test whether patients who were having self-management challenges and ... [who] had dangerously high blood sugar levels over the prior three months ... might be better motivated themselves if given the opportunity to both help and receive help from another participant facing similar self-management challenges and who also had poor control," explained Heisler, who is a research scientist with the Center for Clinical Management Research at the Ann Arbor VA.

This appeared to be the case: Men in the peer-support group saw a significant drop in their HbA1c levels (a measure of blood sugar over time) -- from an average of 8.02 to 7.73 percent over six months, which represented a 0.58 percent decrease from those in the control group, who received care from a nurse.

"That is equivalent to adding a new oral anti-hyperglycemic medication and a very clinically significan
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