Another tool for diabetes care: the telephone

Whether it’s the old-fashioned dial tone or the newest virtual visit, the telephone is playing a key role in helping patients manage their diabetes.

Diabetes diagnosis is on a sharp upward trend nationally, with more than 28 million children and adults living with the disease. Here in Oregon, two Providence diabetes initiatives are offering effective and more affordable care with a simple telephone.

For more than six years, Providence Health Plan’s diabetes management program has been focusing on phone interventions to improve members’ diabetes outcomes.

“Our goal is to manage the whole person and improve the connection points between a member, their provider and the health plan,” says Karen Miles, RN, Providence Health Plan case and disease program manager. “Our nurse care managers provide educational support, and they work to develop relationships that empower members to reach their self-management goals.”

New data show that this outreach is working. One standard is patient activation measures, which show members’ ability to manage their own health. With a 16 percent increase in patient activation measures across all disease management initiatives, more PHP members are maintaining behaviors that demonstrate a higher level of engagement in their own health care. This translates into fewer complications and healthier members.

Emergency visits due to diabetic complications are on the decline, and the percentage of diabetes members with well-managed LDL and HbA1c values continues to rise.

Telehealth virtual visits

Self-managing diabetes can be challenging, even for patients who’ve had diabetes for years. Removing barriers to getting appropriate diabetes care is at the heart of a new telehealth program at Providence Medical Group-Mill Plain and Providence Medical Group-Bethany.

The program delivers virtual education, counseling and screening without the need to travel to a hospital-based diabetes education program.

“There’s no reason people should have to drive in to hospitals,” says Kathy Schwab, manager of Providence’s outpatient diabetes services in Oregon. “This is the future of where health care is going.”

Using a secure video conference feed, the program connects patients to diabetes educators at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. The program is still in the pilot phase, but with more than 150 patient visits, its early success means it will continue and expand to other clinics. Feedback from patients has been overwhelmingly positive, and they rank the program equal to or better than an in-person visit. The program also has identified several patients on the verge of severe complications, who received immediate care.