ONC Beacon Communities Leverage Health IT to Improve Diabetes Care

Aaron McKethan | November 27, 2010

In the month of November, many Beacon Communities across the country are marking American Diabetes Month by continuing to develop new health IT strategies that can help patients and doctors better prevent and manage the disease.

Improving diabetes care using every tool available, including health IT, is as important as ever. Approximately 24 million people in the United States—7.8 percent of the population—have diabetes.  Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death for Americans and it increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, and a number of other serious health complications.[*]

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new analysis indicating that the number of adults with type 2 diabetes in the United States is expected to double or triple by 2050.  Right now, one in ten U.S. adults has diabetes. If trends keep heading the way CDC expects, that figure will be one in three adults by 2050.

Health IT will be extremely beneficial for modernizing health care communications between doctors, nurses, and patients, and will disproportionately benefit patients with diabetes.

Diabetics see primary care physicians for overall management of the disease. They see ophthalmologists for necessary eye exams and podiatrists for necessary foot exams – both to avoid costly and invasive complications that can arise without careful management of the disease. Patients with diabetes also frequent pharmacies, see other specialists, and occasionally end up in the hospital.

Taken together, this means that it is as important as ever to ensure that the numerous health care professionals caring for patients living with diabetes have the means to communicate with each other and have the information necessary to ensure appropriate, high quality, and well-coordinated care. For diabetic care, this means monitoring blood sugar levels, lipid levels, kidney-function tests; ensuring that appropriate medications are available; and being aware on a timely basis of diabetes-related hospitalizations that require appropriate follow-up.

To this end, health IT can be extremely useful, and these are precisely the kinds of health IT-enabled innovations that many Beacon Communities are developing right now. For example, the Mississippi Beacon Community will be using health information exchange technologies to inform  providers delivering care to diabetic patients  about other services those same patients have received from other providers in the community (e.g., to make sure eye and foot exams have been received as appropriate); expanding a medication therapy management program to follow up with diabetic patients to ensure that they  understand their medicines; implementing effective strategies for following up with patients when they are discharged from the hospital; and providing shared care managers in physician practices to use clinical decision support systems, disease registries, and other tools to ensure highly coordinated, personalized care for diabetic patients.

In the Beacons for Better Health posting that my colleague Craig Brammer and I wrote for the Health Affairs blog, we included specific examples of how two other Beacons are leveraging health IT in their communities to improve diabetes care.  We will soon share much more information about these and other Beacon Communities, and follow their stories as they learn from their early experiences.

In the meantime, we are interested in hearing about how health IT has helped improve diabetes care in your community. We invite you to comment below and share your story with us.

To locate the Beacon Community nearest you, visit http://www.healthit.gov/policy-researchers-implementers/beacon-community-program.

[*]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National diabetes fact sheet: general information and national estimates on diabetes in the United States, 2007. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008.