Raising the Bar with Diabetes Education Centers

Diabetes is a national crisis, with more than 30 million Americans living with the disease, accounting for almost 10 percent of the population. Of the 30+ million people with diabetes, only 23 million are diagnosed, leaving more than 7 million undiagnosed and unaware, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Texas Health Resources is doing its part to encourage patients and improve the lives of people with diabetes by operating 10 outpatient diabetes education centers all across North Texas. Patients with type 1, type 2, gestational and pre-diabetes receive individualized, comprehensive information in one-on-one and group environments from a multidisciplinary team of diabetes educators, registered nurses and registered dietitians.

Program participants learn how to monitor blood sugar, manage their medications and make smart dietary choices. They also receive information on exercise, stress management and how to detect and prevent disease complications. Pre- and post-program consultations help assess a patient’s needs and then set them up for success to manage their diabetes throughout life.

We spoke with Brian Primm, director of comprehensive diabetes care, about how Texas Health Resources’ approach to diabetes education is different from what patients will experience anywhere else.

Q: What makes Texas Health’s diabetes education program stand out from the pack?

A: “We provide a very high level of diabetes education and it shows through our outcomes, as we’re able to help people lower their A1C levels, attain an average 7-pound weight loss and improve their ability to self-manage and reduce further complications down the road.

“The average patient who googles diabetes education doesn’t necessarily know the difference between education options, but there’s no other program out there that provides 10 hours with a clinician, group classes and completely individualized coaching. Other programs might offer patients 15 minutes with a doctor or nurse, but most of the time it’s a canned lecture. And while it may be free, it’s not tailored to their specific needs.

“We empower our patients by truly teaching them all about diabetes the same way we teach nurses … that way they know how to manage themselves: how to make a meal plan, how to look at blood glucose levels, how their medication affects their bodies and how to make decisions going forward. We want them to understand the whole process so they can become their own health manager.”

Q:  Since diabetes goes undiagnosed in so many patients, what do people need to know about the disease?

A: “The prevalence of diabetes is just ridiculous and it keeps going up. The problem is that if you have a broken leg, it’s obvious and you go to the emergency room right away, but diabetes is often such a slow progression. We see people at health fairs with blood sugar over 200 and they have no idea they have diabetes.

“Diabetes doesn’t happen overnight so people don’t panic about it. It’s hard to get them to decide to tackle the issue unless something big happens. One in three people has prediabetes with risk factors such as a family history, being overweight and/or inactive. We want to get people here sooner so we can help them before the consequences of diabetes start affecting them.”

Q: What kind of feedback do you receive about the program?

A: “We have a lot of physicians who send us patients one after another because they love the outcomes. We also get patient family referrals all the time. Getting people in the door is the biggest problem really. We know it seems like a significant investment of people’s time and finances, but for those who start with the program and stick with it (around 80-90 percent), they love it.

“We also give folks information about the new technology out there and research on the horizon, which gives them hope. We want people to know about the potential of things like an artificial pancreas and the ongoing research on smart insulin, long-acting injectables and advanced insulin pumps. We’re all about advanced technology and we think it’s important to stay on top of emerging technologies so we’re able to help our folks learn how to use these tools most effectively.

“For example, we did a pilot program at Texas Health HEB at the beginning of the year where we did continuous glucose monitoring for people. They wore the monitoring device for a week and kept a diet and exercise journal. It’s a great way to capture the big picture because they got to see how their choices affected their blood sugar in real time. Word spread about this program like crazy and we had people calling us wanting to try it, so we’re planning to offer at all of our locations by the end of the year.”

Q: What holds people back from joining the program?

A: “The biggest barrier we face is convincing people a comprehensive program like this is worth every minute and every penny. We get a lot of referrals but many people don’t follow through either because of their work schedule, they feel like it’s too far away or the copay is expensive (up to $400). Yes, completing the program takes a lot of time and effort but I guarantee what you get out of it is worth it.

“We’re always willing to work with a patient’s insurance to get them in the door. For the underinsured or uninsured, we try to help them get as much education as possible. If they are actively seeking help, we try to get them whatever level of help they need. Our goal going forward is to get the people who need us in the door and get them here sooner.”

Q: What do you most want people to know about Texas Health’s diabetes education program?

A: “We know that diabetes isn’t sexy and none of the folks involved in this program are in it for the money. They just love working with our patients and have dedicated their entire careers to impacting lives, some for as many as 25 years.

“As far as the program goes, in addition to teaching people about meal planning, medications and how they interact with their bodies, we’ve answered all their questions by the time the program is over. They understand how everything relates to everything else and are able to take control of their own health.

“It’s a great feeling when you see patients have that ‘lightbulb moment’ and they put all the pieces together. We empower them with all the tools they need to manage themselves for a lifetime.”

Visit THR’s Diabetes Education Center page for more information on the program and a list of locations.

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