Introduction Within many USA Cancer Centres, the presence of volunteers is an important factor for improving patient experience. The purpose of this study was to evaluate a pilot project of introducing a volunteer role to support cancer patients using two Chemotherapy Day Units. The study sought to answer the following questions:
▶ Did the volunteer training programme meet the needs of the volunteers and prepare them for their role?
▶ How did the volunteer programme impact on patients' experiences and satisfaction with care?
▶ What benefits were realised and challenges encountered from the perspective of stakeholders involved?
▶ What structures and processes are necessary to ensure the volunteer programme maximises its effect on future patient care?
Methods This mixed methods evaluation was exploratory and spanned 1 year. Data collection included:
A prospective audit of patients' experiences and satisfaction with care undertaken at baseline and end of the pilot project.
Questionnaires and interviews with volunteers at the end of the project.
Interviews with staff and stakeholders at the end of the project.
Findings The evaluation revealed the introduction of volunteers in cancer services was successful. The training programme met the volunteers' needs, prepared them for their role. It also fostered feelings of being supported and part of a team. The patient survey and staff interviews revealed volunteers enhanced patients' experience and satisfaction with care. The evaluation has shown how a ‘neutral’ person can have a positive impact on patient care. Much of the volunteers' time was spent talking to patients and providing companionship which was appreciated by patients and carers. Staff and stakeholder interviews revealed benefits in terms of ‘bridging the gap’ between the healthcare team and the patient and family. The results have provoked discussion about how best to sustain this initiative and incorporate others areas of care delivery. Presently volunteers are being prepared for other areas of the service.
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