Help from Home

home based microvolunteer actions that benefit so many worthy causes

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Help Humanize Hospital Healthcare

“If we can’t support a volunteering culture based on goodwill and altruism, then we can’t support the NHS.”

The Kings FundThis was the view expressed by Dr. Michael Dixon, at the King’s Fund Conference on Volunteering in Health in 2013. From the practical solutions, human dimension, and personal touch that an estimated 3 million volunteers provide, greater recognition for the necessity of volunteers in health and social care services has been further established. The role of a volunteer is not merely supplementary since a truth lays in the fact that clinical professional can only spend a limited time with patients, but, not for reasons concerning unwillingness. Shortages of time, large patient numbers and heavy administrative work, means volunteerism is providing compassion in clinical solutions.

2015 marks the 15th anniversary since the intention of a ‘patient centered NHS’ was declared, now a top three hospital priority. Though the government is yet to elaborate upon how this is to be practically achieved, health and social care services need not wait to be active. Projects such as the King’s fund, dedicated to boosting volunteering as a means to improving patient experiences have recognized the crucial role of volunteers, and the extra support volunteers provide in a demanding system.

Recent events brought to light the strains upon the NHS when patient waiting times at A&E exceeded the 4.5 hours target by double. From the humanization perspective such strains can only bring about fears of a factory line service. However, small gestures of spending time with patients can have big effects. From then an understanding of how patients think and thus, perceive their hospital stay can be achieved. It is after such understanding is gained that the implementation of practical improvements can begin.

Transforming Patient Experience

Simple ideas holding their roots in kindness currently transform patient experiences at UCSF hospital. Whilst the UCSF hospital describes play orientated child life services in their pediatric ward as “preparation” for surgery, their patients describe a “friend” in the hospital. More “friends” can be found in the Music is medicine, Art for recovery and the Peer Support for Cancer Program directed at using expression in many forms as part of a smoother healing process. Comforting patients, reading and conversing with them are part of strengthening the knot between services and relationships. Closer to home the King’s College volunteers are demystifying and assisting to counteract the lonesome, worrisome, and stressful hospital environment through community, ward, and chaplaincy roles. By allowing patients to stay engaged in activities and open up to somebody such volunteers are a necessity to patient care.

The most susceptible to these feelings are inevitably the most vulnerable; including the elderly with few family and social ties, patients suffering from multiple illnesses and patients with disabilities. In addition to, long term and frequent in-patients who have contributed to previous studies reporting a loss of self-esteem and independence. In addition to expressing emotions of embarrassment, helplessness, and depression, which consequently affect patient general well-being.

Volunteers continue to ease these pressures by running errands for patients, helping out-patient care programs to enable patients to take responsibility for their own healthcare with confidence. However, with visiting hours being limited the mere thought of a frequent visitor coming to spend time with you brings positive hope for patients. Knowing somebody is there because they want to be and not out of obligation is a comforting thought within itself. Selfless actions of millions of volunteers are adding human touches into healthcare and it is these touches that will facilitate micro-volunteering into the healthcare system.

Microvolunteering in Health Environments

volunteer-mv-imageMicro-volunteering is not new, its presence has long been around and appears in online campaigns and via mobile telecommunications to raise awareness, inform, produce and collect data, educate, fund-raise, and more. Technological advances means activism is thriving via social media. Moreover, in the developing countries it is the gateway to rapid developments in healthcare. In Rwanda, a simple text message sent by a community health volunteer reporting a patient’s symptoms and health condition receives a reply upon the necessary care actions to take. Placing patient needs at heart and the reality of their situations, micro-volunteering is enabling health care to be resourceful and effective.

Working together, for the benefit of patients are countless non-profit organizations, which as expected provide information, helpline services and even mentoring schemes for patients and their families. Since the effects of a health condition are not isolated to the patient alone. Families and close relations witness the suffering of a patient and together they are carried through a journey. Understanding this, non-profit organizations working for multiple conditions, have long been inviting patients to share their stories via online communities, blogs, discussion forums and thereafter, in person at charity events. Sharing personal and unique stories in a safe place where patients need not feel ashamed to feel a particular way about their conditions and circumstances is more than a community hub. It’s a place of independence, where patients can be actively “in the know”. Nerves are not necessary, since the communities experience with the condition comes with an understanding of surrounding worries. Thus, there is no judgment cast upon patients, only an open-hand willing to help.

I perceive patients who participate in online communities not only as receivers; the sharing of their story makes them a contributor – a part of volunteerism. From their experiences scientists and researchers in the medical field learn about the nature of a condition, its development when treated, after effects of treatment and effects and side effects of any medication used in conjunction with treatment. Being free to access these invaluable contributions to science a patient can place trust into healthcare systems.

What Can Microvolunteers Do?

The big question of how a patient in hospital can contribute to this can be answered simply. Volunteerism – it is already offering hands to let people know they are not alone. By assisting in online writing volunteers can ensure patients stay active and engaged. Assisted writing, written wherever and at whenever, can take the form of blogs, journal/diary entries, letters, postcards, and even captions underpinning art created by patients, a little something to express a difficult time in their lives will only take a few minutes.  The role of the volunteer can be as simple as communicating the patient’s thoughts to a nonprofit organization or informing a patient of the organization and connecting them to the community. Meanwhile, the flexibility of micro-volunteering will enable patients to contribute whenever is convenient for them. With the start-up help of a traditional volunteer assisted writing could also be a volunteerism adventure.

These developments are exciting for micro-volunteers and their host organizations for the greatest reason of social change and individual and community well-being. With collaboration and positive relationships central to international definitions of well-being, it seems only right that the direction of upcoming apps is to encourage and connect communities in the making of little actions for communities.

Smartphone Apps

Opportunities to donate a few minutes and attention to charitable causes and make daily life that bit easier, more comfortable and less stressful for individuals are top priority for app developers like Elbi. Data collection for cancer research scientists and connecting volunteers to be a blind person’s eyes via Be My Eyes are only just the beginning for the potential of smartphone apps. They could prove to be a vital community link and aid communicator for hospital out-patients, people with disabilities and people suffering from multiple long term conditions.

In comparison the ResearchKit app from Apple are aiming towards a broader inclusion of wellbeing. Their approach to good deeds “for the environment, for a friend, for a complete stranger, or for the sake of improving our world in general,” aligns with the Wellbeing and Poverty Pathways (2011) definition of wellbeing.

“Relationship is at the heart of wellbeing -it is not the property of an individual” so “assessing well-being must consider interactions amongst people and between them and the wider environment.”

Thus, ResearchKit hopes to encourage collaborative volunteerism. Embracing volunteerism as a social behavior the app’s focal point is community unity.

The digital nature of the two apps calls to encourage a broader population of volunteers. To mention a few, various generations, suffers of social inhibitions and people with disabilities, who may shy away from traditional forms of volunteering due to reasons of stereotyping. Uniting such a diverse population will counteract false impressions of volunteerism and can hopefully change perspectives within the health care dimension. Though the app’s effects are yet to be seen in action, I feel that a buzz around them will trigger their success. Whether it be by traditional word of mouth or social media, these apps are micro-volunteerisms’ latest contribution to providing a sense of belonging, purpose and self-worth to users. It has long been recognized that opportunities to participate connect individuals to communities and bring enjoyment into individual and community lives.

This is important considering that happiness is integral to well-being. If healthcare services can join forces with Elbi and Be My Eyes, the benefits to its patient community can include enhanced life satisfaction, decreased psychological health and even better physical health.

Longitudinal studies have shown that giving through moral aid contributes to better physical and mental wellbeing. Receivers of help had high morality rates than of givers. Inevitably the greater the time dedicated to helping another, the better the impact upon one’s well-being as a case study in rural China confirmed. Somewhere between the reciprocal acts of volunteerism in whichever form it takes, bonds of trust and reliance are formed and value is instilled in both beings.

In the provision of services, healthcare being no exception, value is the foundation. Currently donating gestures of kindness, volunteerism is making its mark; however, we can go a few steps further. If healthcare systems can collaborate with more non-profit organizations, and online support groups alongside apps such as Elbi and ResearchKit to promote the interest of their patients they can enhance a more active patient community. Currently healthcare systems unite with non-profit organizations to support patients with their specific conditions and direct them to a community where their worries can be shared and sometimes resolved. However, many times, patients are left to discover online communities and support groups alone.

Collaborate for Compassion

Here is where traditional forms of volunteerism and micro-volunteering can team up to raise awareness of positive causes. A social media buzz surrounding the apps will of course spark curiosity and engagement. Although, a classic word of mouth informing patients upon the possibilities to contribute to a good cause, with flexibility and with a diverse group of people can make all the difference. Opportunities to do good deeds are out there. It’s with the help of volunteers leading and contributing to support groups that gateways for patient participation in simple actions are possible.

Imagine each patient holding a sense of belonging and purpose, knowing that in worrisome times there is someone, better yet, a community ready and waiting to help make daily life easier, but beyond this, a community waiting to welcome you and thank you for your participation. Wouldn’t it be great to feel this comfort in healthcare, to know technology at our fingertips is instilling compassion in a service necessary to countless people every day? It’s happening. Right now – let’s collaborate for compassion.

First published in January, 2015 (updated April 2016)

Guest Author: Mira Trisha Patel