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The social networks of New Zealand patients with multimorbidity and the work of those nominated as their ‘significant supporters’: An exploratory study

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Social networks are informal relationships often with social ties and voluntary or mandatory obligations that can positively support a patient with multimorbidity. This exploratory study sought insights into the social networks of New Zealand people with multimorbidity and also the work of those nominated as providing significant support. Ten participants were recruited from general practice as part of an education programme in which health professional students discussed living with multimorbidity and completed a social network template together with patients. Each patient nominated an individual from their social network whom they considered provided significant support. A researcher interviewed each supporter about their experience of providing support, and their view of the patient’s social network. Significant supporters included three classified as ‘lay’ supporters (sister, wife and daughter) and seven classified as ‘professional’ supporters (exercise physiologist, general practitioners, nurse, medical specialists). The activities described by supporters was classified according to Vassilev et al.’s expansion of Corbin and Strauss’s 1985 classification of work in chronic illness, including the categories of “illness,” “everyday” and “emotional” work. Irrespective of whether supporters were lay or professional, they gave examples of each category. While this is expected of lay supporters, it is not expected of professional supporters who are typically viewed as undertaking illness work. Lay supporters described a complex array of activities sometimes impacting on their own personal well‐being, making them more akin to meeting the formal definition of being a carer, while professional supports gave objective yet professionally invested descriptions. The work of lay and professional supporters is complementary in the provision of support for those with multimorbidity. Consideration should be given to the role of lay supporters and to their own needs if they are to be able to sustain their support work with patients.
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Keywords: lay supporters; multimorbidity; patients; professional supporters; social networks

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2019

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