Peer Partners Offer Encouragement and Support to Joint Replacement Patients

When it comes to innovation and improvement, Virginia Mason recognizes that patients are a valuable resource. This is especially true in the Peer Partners program. When former joint replacement patients were asked what could be done to improve their experience, many said they wished they’d been able to talk with someone who had recently gone through a hip or knee replacement.

Patient peer partner volunteer speaks with orthopedics patient.

A Virginia Mason patient learns his Peer Partner, Kent Smith (right), also looked forward to playing tennis again after joint replacement.

Patient Relations Program Manager Ann Hagensen, RN, realized the value of that suggestion. She and her team worked with patients to design the Peer Partners program. Now in its third year, the program trains former patients to become volunteer peer partners. The volunteers round on the orthopedics unit, visiting patients. They also attend pre-surgical classes to reinforce the knee and hip surgery protocols. In an orientation session, peer partners are prepared to visit with patients by learning communication techniques that help them listen for topics that matter most to the patient. Often patients are excited to talk about activities they plan to get back to with a newly functional joint.

Following their training, peer partners move through the orthopedics unit, introducing themselves to patients who are scheduled for surgery or are in recovery. Volunteer Kent Smith, who has been a peer partner for two years, found the program to be very helpful to him when he underwent his own hip replacement. “I wanted to find a way to pay back for the great care I’ve received at Virginia Mason,” he says. “The caregivers here have wonderful hearts. They give the kind of care you always want to receive.”

Kent credits the Patient Relations training with transforming the way he communicates in all aspects of his life.

“It’s all about listening and letting people know you’re there for them,” Kent says. “The conversation may begin with a focus on their surgery, but often expands to include their personal lives. Patients want someone to listen to them. Our goal is to be a source of encouragement and motivation, to help them get the hard work of recovery done.”

Kent is not alone in his enthusiasm for the Peer Partners program. Ann says the one-on-one experience is so positive that many patients decide to volunteer before they leave the hospital, returning six months later for their training.

“This program is a win-win,” says Ann. “It’s a win for our patient partners who have this opportunity to help others and see their ideas become reality, and it’s a win for Virginia Mason, helping us create the perfect patient experience.”


A version of this story also appears in the Virginia Mason Health System 2017 Annual Report. 

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