Healthcare providers, payers, and patients expect new technologies and shifts to patient engagement and population health will help the nation's 29.1 million diabetics manage their condition and reduce the costs associated with this dangerous and expensive disease.
In 2012, diagnosed diabetes cost the US $176 billion, and reduced productivity cost another $69 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control. After adjusting for age and gender differences, average medical expenses for people with diabetes were 2.3 times higher than they would have been without diabetes, the American Diabetes Association reported.
More than 1.5 million Americans have Type 1 diabetes; the vast majority of cases are Type 2 diabetes, which typically is linked to obesity. In Type 2 cases, patients still produce insulin and may improve with lifestyle and diet changes. Unchecked, diabetes can lead to more medical complications and even death.
Without attention, US diabetes cases will increase, fueled by Americans' diet of sugar and processed food, Dr. Brett Osborn, author of Get Serious: A Neurosurgeon's Guide to Optimal Health and Fitness, told InformationWeek.
"More than 30% of Medicare dollars are spent on diabetics and/or related complications. Likely diabetes, or more specifically 'insulin resistance,' will be linked to many more disease processes -- i.e., Alzheimer's disease is also referred to as 'Type III diabetes,' as one of its underpinnings is insulin resistance," he says.
In an effort to improve health, reduce costs, and slow down future cases, healthcare providers are educating non-diabetics about how to avoid the condition and using new and long-established tools to help diabetics live healthier lives.
They're influenced by healthcare's transition to patient engagement -- with its growing reliance on patient portals, mobile apps, and the creation of health-focused communities -- plus population health, which considers the multiple factors that make up the population's individual and overall health.
In Cities for Life, a diabetes management program supported by Sanofi US and conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation, patients were connected with community resources to help manage their condition. Partners at the University of Alabama researched resources at local churches, YMCAs, gyms, and other sites, then created a database and website -- MyDiabetesConnect.com -- where residents could locate farmers' markets, exercise programs, and other items conducive to health living.
"Obviously what happens in their doctors' offices is very important, but they need to carry out what they plan in their doctors' offices throughout the year," Dr. Edwin Fisher, global director of Peers for Progress at the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation, tells us. "We really need comprehensive approaches that bring together clinical care, community care, social support, friends, and neighbors, to help people with diabetes live their lives well and take care of their diabetes well."
Increasingly, that care involves technology.
The information pouring in from glucose meters provides developers, researchers, payers, and other members of the healthcare world with a plethora of data for analysis that could provide insight into new treatments or devices. Tens of thousands of diabetics also use the more than 1,000 apps now available to monitor and manage the condition, further fueling both improved health and big-data solutions.
"Ultimately, more aggressive monitoring -- implantable, continuous -- will lead to tighter glucose control. This equates to reduced formation of advanced glycation products and lower bodily inflammation (the damaging, diabetes-associated epiphenomena)," says Osborn. "Google will likely be introducing a contact lens-based glucose monitor in the next several years. This will allow for real-time monitoring of blood glucose, essentially providing a number upon which people can rapidly act. Aggressive treatment early on is the key -- although prevention obviously is ideal."
Tech companies are venturing into the diagnostics and treatment market. Patients can use smartphones to monitor their condition. In addition to Google's under-development smart contact lens, other companies are creating a bionic pancreas and exploring genomes to control diabetes.
Take a look at some of the technologies currently in use, and let us know what your organization is doing to help diabetic patients control costs and improve their health.