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Goldstein KM, Voils CI, Bastian LA, Heisler M, Olsen MK, Woolson S, White-Clark C, Zervakis J, Oddone EZ. An Innovation to Expand the Reach of Peer Support: A Feasibility and Acceptability Study. Military medicine. 2022 Oct 13.
INTRODUCTION: Peer support is a well-established part of veteran care and a cost-effective way to support individuals pursuing health behavior change. Common models of peer support, peer coaching, and mutual peer support have limitations that could be minimized by building on the strengths of each to increase the overall reach and effectiveness. We conducted a 12-week, proof-of-concept study to test the acceptability and feasibility of a hybrid model of peer support which supplements dyadic mutual peer support with as-needed peer coaching. MATERIALS AND METHODS: We tested our novel peer support model within the context of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk reduction as a support mechanism for the promotion of heart-healthy diet and exercise behaviors. We recruited peer buddies (participants who would be matched with each other to provide mutual support) with at least one uncontrolled CVD risk factor (i.e., blood pressure, weight, or diabetes) and peer coaches (individuals who would provide additional, as-needed support for peer buddies) with a recent history of CVD health behavior improvement. We aimed for 50% of peer buddies to be women to assess for potential gender differences in intervention engagement. Participants received didactic instruction during three group sessions, and peer dyads were instructed to communicate weekly with their peer buddy to problem-solve around action plans and behavioral goals. We tracked frequency of dyadic communication and conducted semi-structured interviews at the intervention''s end to assess acceptability. RESULTS: We recruited three peer coaches and 12 peer buddies. Ten buddies (five dyads) met at the first group session, and all were still in weekly contact with each other at week 12. Peer buddies had a mean of 8.75 out of 12 possible weekly peer buddy communications (range 6-15 in total). Peer coaches provided additional support to four participants over 12?weeks. Participants reported liking the intervention, including mixed-gender groups. Clarity and expectation setting around the role of peer coaches were important. CONCLUSIONS: The supplementation of mutual peer support with as-needed peer coaching is an acceptable and feasible way to expand the potential reach and effectiveness of peer support for behavior change among veterans.