Supporting Each Other: Tools to Starting and Running a Successful Support Group for your Patients
My interest to start a support group at the Middlesex Dialysis Center in Connecticut was fostered by a discussion with our medical director, Dr. David Miner. A support group is important to dialysis patients for many reasons; patients build friendships, have a place to share their concerns, struggles, and/or accomplishments, and most of all they are able to normalize their feelings as someone else understands what they are going through as a dialysis patient because they are going through the same thing. The support group helps our patients gain knowledge and become more educated about their kidney disease.
Team involvement and support are key. My co-facilitator is Peggy Simms, a LPN/ transplant coordinator. Peggy helps address any medical questions that arise during the session and prepares the refreshments for the event along with our dietitian. Our dietitian, Christine Maxwell also gives dietary tips and guidance. The nurses and Patient Care Technicians help to encourage patient attendance. Our medical director, Dave Miner is very supportive and attends the group sessions, with a recent presentation on insomnia.
We have had many successes at our clinic since starting the support group. We had patients pursue transplant after hearing experiences from past patients whom received a transplant. One patient started the process and just became active. We had a patient speak who had just gotten a transplant and had his own questions and concerns. The other presenter that day was able to address some of his concerns. This was one of our touching moments, because he was willing to give and share and in doing so he also gained knowledge. Patients in our center are building friendships. Other modalities have been addressed and have opened the gates for other interests to pursue. The group is growing in numbers each time. We are now welcoming patients from sister clinics to attend. Patients have embraced bringing their family and friends to the support groups, which has enhanced their knowledge retention and increased their inner circle of support.
Upcoming topics for our support group include: the Kidney SWAP program, and how to approach the topic with others about being a donor, vascular care and why it is important.
The best part about starting these groups is that patients have grown from their experience and feel empowered. The magical feeling felt after a group session is indescribable, it just fills my cup with fulfillment in my work. The day after the group session there is a special aura/buzz/excitement amongst the patients in our clinic as they share with one another the wonderful experience they had by attending.
How about bringing the magic to your clinic?
Here are some resources and tips that might help you get your support group started:
- Renal Support Network website: Their online manual can assist with starting your own support group.
- Reach out to another social worker that has a group so you can learn what has worked, and has not worked.
- Provide recipe handouts on the renal-friendly refreshments being served during the meeting.
- Prepare and plan for guest speakers two months in advance.
- Offer an incentive to the patients for attending; we do raffle prizes, including items from the DaVita Store and DaVita cookbooks.
- Get your documents organized: Prepare an agenda, sign-in sheet, ground rules for participation, and provide handouts pertaining to the meeting’s topic. Post flyers in advance around the clinic and assist patients with transportation if they wish to attend.
- Survey your patients: Ask your patients what topics interest them. Provide a list of topics and ask them to rate the most interesting. The most highly rated topic is what we started with to entice our patients’ interest. Also ask which day of the week and what time is the best for patients to attend.