Case Study

Virginia Mason Medical Center's volunteers provide patients with a connection to another person who shares a similar health care experience

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Patient-Family Peer Partner Volunteer Program

Location: Seattle

Quadruple Aim: Improving the health of populations

Total number of volunteers: 500

Number of beds: 336

Goal: Virginia Mason Medical Center is proud to engage patients and their families as equal partners with Virginia Mason team members when the medical center improves an existing process or designs a new program or service. The Patient-Family Partner program is a way in which we welcome our patient and family members as equal partners in our work. This program is necessary to help us really know what matters to them. We’ve learned over the years that we must open our minds and hearts to truly listen and engage with our patients and families. This is where our PFP program comes into play.

Summary of program: Great things can happen when patients provide empathetic emotional support and information to other patients going through similar experiences. Peer Partners are patient-volunteers who have experienced joint replacements or other specific surgical interventions. These volunteers participate with staff members in a weekly joint class preparing patients for surgery and they round in the hospital orthopedic unit on patients recovering from these surgeries. They answer questions, strive to reduce anxiety, reinforce discharge and recovery instructions, and provide encouragement. The role is carefully coordinated to supplement the medical care team. Before our Peer Partner role was implemented, we saw a marked decrease in communication between the patient and the primary medical team.

Roles of the volunteers: The goal of the Peer Partner is to provide Virginia Mason patients with a connection to another person who shares a similar health care experience. This shared life experience can provide a connection between two people where the exchange of tips and tricks adds value for all. It provides empathy, companionship and emotional support. The role of the Peer Partner is to encourage communication between the patient/family/caregiver and the primary medical team.

Peer Partner volunteers do not provide medical advice. They co-facilitate pre-op joint replacement classes and they round with patients post-op to provide active listening, and complimentary support (e.g. offering cell phone chargers, reading materials, warm blankets).

Roles of staff: Health care provider staff co-facilitate the pre-op joint replacement class with the Peer Partner volunteer. Health care provider staff (nurses) also provide referrals for patients who request and/or could benefit from a Peer Partner visit.

Primary collaborators: Volunteer Services, Peer Partner volunteers, Department of Orthopedics

Outcomes and benefits: Since 2015, 15 Peer Partner volunteers have logged over 1,600 volunteer hours and have visited 1,700 patients. During the pilot phase of the Peer Partner role, we measured Press-Ganey Patient Satisfaction results (pre and post-pilot), adherence to patient discharge instructions (pre and post-pilot), and re-admittance data for hip & knee replacement patients (pre and post-pilot). Orthopedics has noticed a decrease in patient-identified loneliness, pre-op anxiety, and are finding that their exam times have increased as patients are engaging more and asking more questions.

Future plans: We are currently piloting an additional Peer Partner role within our Otolaryngology department (specifically for Laryngectomee patients) and will also be adding Peer Partners to our Transplant department in early 2019 and in Urology (specifically for prostate cancer patients) in mid-2019.


Chelsea Sandlin, MNPL

Director, Volunteer & Ancillary Services

(206) 341-1144