Experiences of integrating community volunteers as extensions of the primary care team to help support older adults at home: a qualitative study
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BACKGROUND: Increasing the integration of community volunteers into primary health care delivery has the potential to improve person-focused, coordinated care, yet the use of volunteers in primary care is largely unexplored. Health Teams Advancing Patient Experience: Strengthening Quality (Health TAPESTRY) is a multi-component intervention involving trained community volunteers functioning as extensions of primary care teams, supporting care based on older adults' health goals and needs. This study aimed to gain an understanding of volunteer experiences within the program and client and health care provider perspectives on the volunteer role. METHODS: This study used a qualitative descriptive approach embedded in a pragmatic randomized controlled trial. Participants included Health TAPESTRY volunteers, health care providers, volunteer coordinator, and program clients, all connected to two primary care practice sites in a large urban setting in Ontario, Canada. Data collection included semi-structured focus groups and interviews with all participants, and the completion of a measure of attitudes toward older adults and self-efficacy for volunteers. Qualitative data were inductively coded and analyzed using a constant comparative approach. Quantitative data were summarized using descriptive statistics. RESULTS: Overall, 30 volunteers and 64 other participants (clients, providers, volunteer coordinator) were included. Themes included: 1. Volunteer training: "An investment in volunteers"; 2. Intergenerational volunteer pairing: "The best of both worlds"; 3. Understanding the volunteer role and its scope: "Lay people involved in care"; 4. Volunteers as extensions of primary care teams: "Being the eyes where they live"; 5. The disconnect between volunteers and the clinical team: "Is something being done?"; 6. "Learning… all the time": Impacts on volunteers; and 7. Clients' acceptance of volunteers. CONCLUSIONS: This study showed that it is possible to integrate community volunteers into the primary care setting, adding human connections to deepen the primary care team's understanding of their patients. Program implementation suggestions that emerged included: using role play in training, making volunteer role boundaries and specifications clear, and making efforts to connect volunteers and the primary care team they are supporting. This exploration of stakeholder voices has the potential to help improve volunteer program uptake and acceptability, as well as volunteer recruitment, retention, and training. TRIAL REGISTRATION: For RCT: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02283723, November 5, 2014.
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