Hospital patient holding hands

The value and impact of peer mentoring programs across any number of industries and professions is indisputable. But what about programs specifically designed to improve post-operative health care and patient experience?

New research sheds light on how connecting hospital patients who have just undergone life-altering surgeries with individuals who have already experienced the procedures may help ease post-operative recovery.

The paper, “Improving Care Transitions with Standardized Peer Mentoring: Evidence from Intervention Based Research Using Randomized Control Trial,” finds that structured, formalized patient mentoring programs can help improve patients’ transition from hospital to home by reducing their post-procedure anxiety.

“While hospitals have always used mentors to help transitioning patients after surgeries, very few of these programs are successful — the reason being that these mentorship programs are often less structured and relies on individual mentor skills” said Aravind Chandrasekaran, professor of operations at The Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business.

“In our work, mentors received training on standards of care that were administered by nurses during hospital stay and used these standards when discussing best practices with the patients after their discharges”

Chandrasekaran authored the paper with Yeojun Chun, a senior data analytics specialist at The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute; Kristen Hill, a clinical nurse specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center; and Shannon Harris, assistant professor supply chain management and analytics at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Working closely with more than 100 frontline nurses, physicians and recent kidney transplant patients, the researchers used an Intervention-Based Research (IBR) approach to create a standardized peer-mentoring program that connected recently discharged patients with former patients. Collaborating with a major midwestern hospital, the program paired six former patients with 80 recent recipients of kidney transplants to serve as mentors and informational resources for 30 days following their discharge from the hospital.

“We looked at kidney transplant patients because of the high risk of readmissions due to the complex regimen of post-operative instructions that must be followed to increase the likelihood of transplant success,” Chandrasekaran said.

Findings from the study were twofold:

  • Using a prominent measure of State Anxiety, patients who worked with peer mentors during the 30 days following their transplant reported experiencing a 3.5 points lower anxiety than those not involved in a mentoring program after controlling for other anxiety measures. This outcome was clinically significant.
  • The risk of 30-day readmission among patients participating in the mentoring program increased by 12.6 times.

“The second finding was surprising but made sense,” Chandrasekaran said. “The availability of a peer mentor increased communication with the patient and made them aware of complications sooner. This also made patients contact their providers and receive necessary treatments sooner. Although current health care regulations penalize hospitals for costly readmissions, some of them may be necessary and helpful to quickly correct serious issues or complications.”

The first finding, however, underscored the potential value in better understanding the roles patients and former patients can have in improving care processes, Chandrasekaran said. Whereas current health care delivery reforms attempt to reduce readmissions and improve health outcomes by increasing collaboration among individual care providers, there may be potential for even more benefits if patients are incorporated as an integral part of the care delivery process.

“Patients and former patients can and should be co-creators of value in the transition of care process,” Chandrasekaran said. “They’re vital resources for managing care especially because nurses, physicians and social workers are already overworked. Hospitals can benefit from a structured approach to pairing patients with a mentor to help navigate the first few months of post-surgical anxiety.”

Patients and former patients can and should be co-creators of value in the transition of care process.

Aravind ChandrasekaranProfessor of Operations


Aravind Chandrasekaran Fisher Distinguished Professor of Operations, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Executive Education
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