Can volunteer medical visit companions support older adults in the United States?

Orla C. Sheehan, Marcela D. Blinka, David L. Roth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Older adults are encouraged to use Medical Visit Companions (MVCs) for routine medical encounters; however, many vulnerable older adults attend alone or fail to attend. In the absence of available family or friends, community volunteers could potentially fill this gap. We aimed to understand the role and acceptability of volunteer MVCs accompanying older adults to medical visits and explore potential barriers and facilitators of increasing MVC availability and expanding roles beyond transportation. Methods: Two moderators conducted 4 focus groups with 29 volunteers grouped by whether they provided (n = 15) or received (n = 14) rides to medical visits. All were members of Partners In Care (PIC), a community organization in Maryland, United States which offers a range of programs and services that support the independence of older adults including the provision of volunteer MVCs. Participants were asked to discuss why they were involved with PIC, and to describe their experiences with providing or receiving companionship during medical visits. Inductive thematic analysis was used to explore the views and experiences of participants, particularly around the roles played by MVCs and the feasibility of expanding these roles. Results: All participants reported benefits from their role whether that was giving or receiving rides. Many accompanied participants reported missing medical appointments prior to joining PIC and being able to avail of the services of a MVC. Volunteer roles varied and ranged from transportation only, help with care coordination and in some cases accompanying the person into their medical visit. A subgroup of volunteers expressed a willingness to take on additional roles during the physician visit following additional training and isolated older adults welcomed the prospect of their assistance. Conclusion: Our qualitative data indicate that non-family, volunteer MVCs are willing and able to assist older people going to a medical visit. With appropriate training and support, volunteer companions could do much to improve the healthcare experience for those who otherwise would attend alone or would not attend medical visits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number253
JournalBMC geriatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Isolated older adults
  • Medical visit companion
  • Volunteer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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