November is American Diabetes Month, which is the perfect time to educate patients about a disease that impacts tens of millions of people, including a large percentage of the population that may not realize they are at risk or already have the disease. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34.2 million Americans have diabetes, including 26.9 million people who are diagnosed and 7.3 million people who have the disease but don't know it. Even more, 88 million adults have prediabetes.
Poorly controlled or untreated diabetes can lead to leg or foot amputations, vision loss, increased risk for heart disease, and kidney damage. To improve patient outcomes, providers must ensure patients are educated and provided with the proper tools to manage the diagnosis. By doing so, it can lead to better blood sugar management, slowed disease progression, and even prevent prediabetics from becoming insulin dependent. Here are three ways you can promote patient engagement in diabetic populations.
Medication Management and Preventative Care
Controlling blood sugar levels is the major goal of diabetes treatment to prevent complications of the disease. In addition to diet and exercise, this is accomplished through medication. The treatment plan for each diabetic patient can vary—medication needs can change over time, and, in some cases, patients will be required to take a combination of medications to help reduce their blood sugar levels. With approximately 50% of patients not taking medication as prescribed, it's important to frequently remind diabetic patients to take their medication. This can be accomplished by sending automated reminders to patients regarding which medications to take and when.
For patients that are prediabetic, health systems can send out automated wellness appointment reminders to notify those patients to come in regularly to monitor their condition. Even more, your health system can monitor patients remotely by asking them to self-report basic information such as blood sugar levels, weight, and medication compliance via text. This can help ensure patients are adhering to treatment plans and enables real-time escalation when needed.
Health and Wellness
Just like medication and nutrition, physical activity can help control blood sugar levels and boost body sensitivity to insulin, countering insulin resistance. In addition, exercise is a key tool in preventing one of the leading complications of type 2 diabetes—cardiovascular disease. According to a study by Harvard University, people with diabetes who walked at least two hours a week were less likely to die of heart disease than their sedentary counterparts, and those who exercised three to four hours a week cut their risk even more.
Your health system can encourage physical activity by offering a variety of virtual and/or in-person classes. This can ensure that every patient, no matter their access, is getting the exercise they need even if it's from their home. You can also educate diabetic patients about the importance of exercise and encourage them to be active daily through multi-channel communications, including handouts, posters, social media, digital marketing, and even text reminders. By sending a text that says "Have you gotten your daily dose of exercise? Sign up for our class here." can be the reminder that patients need to stay active.
For patients managing diabetes and prediabetes, a healthy eating plan is likely the most powerful tool. With proper nutrition, patients can help keep blood sugar levels in a safe range while also managing weight and controlling risk for heart disease. But adjusting to the right nutrition plan can be the most difficult part of managing diabetes, especially when there is no specific "diabetes diet." Health systems can help patients adjust to this lifestyle change by offering virtual and/or in-person classes and events that coach diabetic patients through low glycemic nutrition plans and how to substitute favorite foods with a low sugar option.
Healthy eating is such a large predictor of improved outcomes for diabetics that Medicare offers nutritional counseling at no cost to its enrollees. However, according to Kaiser Health News, of the 15 million eligible Medicare enrollees only 100,000 people took advantage of the nutritional counseling benefit in 2017.
When patients are fully engaged in their diabetes management and provided the right tools, they are more likely to maintain treatment plans, including prioritizing healthy eating, taking medication, tracking their health, and reaching out to providers when they need help. These behaviors will ideally prevent their diabetes from progressing and resulting in more costly and invasive interventions. To learn more about how we can help with patient engagement for diabetic and other patient populations, click here. To see how we can help encourage Medicare enrollees with diabetes to schedule their free nutrition consultation, check out our Diabetic Nutritional Counseling Data Sheet.