Telehealth Services Help Diabetes Patients Get the Care They Need

With 1 in 10 Americans having diabetes, and 1 in 3 with prediabetes, the impact of the disease on the U.S. health system is costly with nearly $237 billion spent each year on direct medical costs. Additional burdens will only continue to build as 1 in 5 adolescents aged between 12 and 18 and 1 in 4 adults aged between 19 and 34 have prediabetes.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) reports that 32% of its annual spending is attributed to the diabetes population. Chronic care management is vital in treating all types of diabetes, but access to healthcare limits a patient's ability to receive the care they need. The healthcare community is seeking out new practices and standards that allow for the treatment of this growing concern in more effective and accessible ways.

Diabetes did not get its name as the "family disease" lightly and the personal toll the disease takes on individuals and families cannot be underestimated. Changes in lifestyle and health for the diabetic have far-reaching implications and complications for their families. Not to mention the effects that the long-term consequences of improperly treated diabetes have on all those involved as further, more complicated treatment is needed.

COVID-19, Telehealth, and Diabetes

Since COVID-19, many individuals, families, and providers have changed how they approach and treat illnesses, including diabetes. The benefit of remote consultations and treatment were clear at the time, but, perhaps unexpectedly, remote consultations remain effective in treating and managing diabetes post-pandemic.

Remote chronic care management services for diabetics have expanded due inpart to the pandemic. With well-established telehealth networks, providers can increase accessibility to treatment that used to be limited by barriers such as distance and access. Considering the distance some patients need to travel, as well as those limited by lack of methods of travel such as those in rural areas, appearing physically in a doctor's office can be, and often is, prohibitive. Our response to COVID-19 has now accelerated the diabetic's access to comprehensive chronic care management.

One such example of the effectiveness of telehealth in treating diabetes comes from The University of Mississippi Medical Center's (UMMC) Center for Telehealth. They use tablets as part of patients' chronic care management. In this volunteer program, patients use their tablets to record their glucose levels, which are then accessible by their care team in the patient's electronic health record. Providers use this information to monitor glucose levels and contact patients to follow up on changes or to make recommendations. Programs like this help prevent complications from diabetes, such as stroke, heart attacks, and kidney disease. It also empowers patients to take control of their treatment and change their lifestyles. An added benefit is the patient knowing that someone is looking out for their well-being and actively including them in their treatment decisions.

Tracked by Gregory Hall, UMMC's director of telehealth IT, financial data shows the positive impact this has on health systems. Fewer physical visits to the doctor mean increased accessibility, decreased costs for patients and providers, and improved psychological health.

Telehealth Tools for Chronic Care Management

We need not limit how we use telehealth communication. Other studies have used several methods including telemonitoring, mHealth devices, phone calls, video education tools, or a combination thereof. The use of these devices depends largely on accessibility and further study is needed to evaluate the feasibility of different ways of providing access. For example, hospitals or health insurance funding these interventions.

Most of these studies saw a decrease in A1C levels, as well as improvements in "mental health, body mass index, diabetes self-management behaviors, systolic blood pressure, and fasting plasma glucose levels." The benefits of telehealth on these patients' diabetes alone are beneficial, not to mention lightening the load on healthcare services as patients’ overall health and well-being improved.
COVID-19 accelerated the use of telehealth and therefore helped increase access to chronic care management services. As we progress, continued accessibility to telehealth should remain a key consideration.

For more information about chronic care management for diabetes and telehealth, contact us.

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