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Diabetes Management: An Approach That Improves Outcomes and Reduces Costs

Diabetes Management: An Approach That Improves Outcomes and Reduces Costs

As many as 10% of Americans older than 20 years have type 2 diabetes, and more than 20% of the total population has the metabolic syndrome.1,2 Type 2 diabetes will develop in many of those with the metabolic syndrome. In the United States, diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death; the leading cause of end-stage renal disease, non-traumatic limb amputations, and blindness; and the leading contributor to cardiovascular disease.3-6

The physical, fiscal, and psychological burden of diabetes can be significantly reduced if evidence-based goals are achieved for hemoglobin A1c, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. Based on strong evidence, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has set the following goals for management of the disease:

• Hemoglobin A1c < 7%.
• LDL cholesterol level < 100 mg/dL.
• Blood pressure < 130/80 mm Hg.

However, diabetes is a complex chronic disease that has proved difficult to manage effectively in the primary care setting. Despite our increased knowledge of the pathophysiology of the disease and of effective treatment strategies, patient outcomes have not shown a parallel improvement.7,8 Nationally, only 48% of patients have reached the ADA's hemoglobin A1c goal, just 33% have met the LDL cholesterol goal, and only 33% have met the blood pressure goal. Only 7% have reached goal for all 3 parameters at the same time.9

This article describes a program that has significantly improved the percentages of patients who meet ADA goals. It also offers resources and tips that can help you implement a similar strategy in your practice.

DIABETES MASTER CLINICIAN PROGRAM IMPROVES OUTCOMES
The Diabetes Master Clinician Program (DMCP) was created by the Florida Academy of Family Physicians Foundation (FAFPF) in 2003 to address the performance gap in diabetes care. The DMCP was designed to help clinicians implement approaches that have been shown to improve outcomes in the management of chronic disease. The program is funded through grants, and there is no charge for participation.

Of the 8657 patients in the 58 practices participating in the DMCP, the percentages that have achieved ADA goals have been significantly better than the national average: 54% of the patients have achieved the hemoglobin A1c goal; 53% have achieved the LDL cholesterol goal; 54% have achieved goal blood pressure; and 19% have met all 3 goals. Several participating practices report figures as high as 75% for individual measures and 44% for all 3 together.

DMCP ALSO LOWERS COSTS
Moreover, these improved performance statistics translate into considerable cost savings. A national program, the Diabetes Physician Recognition Program (DPRP), which is cosponsored by the ADA and the National Committee for Quality Assurance, provides recognition for physicians who achieve certain performance measures in their care for patients with diabetes. An independent actuarial firm, Towers Perrin, was asked to calculate the per-patient savings accrued by physicians who achieve DPRP recognition. The firm estimated the following savings for every additional patient in a practice who was able to achieve the following goals10:

• Hemoglobin A1c < 7.0%: $248 saved per patient.
• Blood pressure < 130/80 mm Hg: $494 saved per patient.
• LDL cholesterol level < 100 mg/dL: $369 saved per patient.

Using these estimates and the numbers of patients in the DMCP at each goal beyond what would be projected based on national average percentages, the following annual program-wide savings can be calculated:

• Hemoglobin A1c < 7.0%: $98,704 total savings.
• Blood pressure < 130/80 mm Hg: $825,234 total savings.
• LDL cholesterol level < 100 mg/dL: $499,257 total savings.

In fact, in the opinion of this author, these numbers are quite conservative.

KEY ELEMENTS OF THE DMCP
The DMCP uses 3 principal tools to help primary care physicians and their patients attain the ADA goals:

• A diabetes registry.
• Group visits.
• A team approach.

These tools are accompanied by ample training and support for both clinicians and assistants.

Diabetes registry. The diabetes registry used in the DMCP is an Internet-based relational database created in consultation with an information technology expert. Evidence-based quality indicators culled from the published guidelines of the ADA,11 the National Cholesterol Education Project,12 and the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure13 were used to guide the creation of the database fields. The DMCP registry generates excellent reports that both enhance the care provided in one-on-one office visits and facilitate management of all patients with diabetes in the participating practices.

Time-saving physician reports. Between 15 and 20 minutes of a physician's time is allotted for a typical one-on-one office visit with a patient with diabetes. Often, some of that time is spent searching for laboratory results and other information from past visits. The diabetes registry provides a report that can save physicians up to 5 minutes by organizing all of the patient's pertinent diabetes information for their review (Table 1).

Easy-to-understand patient "report cards." The most valuable report generated by the DMCP registry is the patient report card (Table 2). The simple language that is used to explain the items in the report empowers and educates patients and encourages self-management. If a practice chooses, a medical assistant or nurse can review and explain the report to the patient. These reports enhance the effectiveness of the one-on-one visit; reduce frustration; save time; and increase patient, staff, and physician satisfaction.

 

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