Through an innovative approach, researchers look to help patients with diabetes stay on track.

Focus on engaging patients with diabetes, reducing costs

It’s no surprise that when people with diabetes manage their disease better, they’re healthier and have lower health care costs. But what can help them stay on track? Two of Harvard Pilgrim’s partners, the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute and MedWatch, are teaming up on a study involving close to 300 insured adult members with diabetes enrolled in MedWatch’s diabetes disease management program. The program involves regular coaching from MedWatch nurses, along with the use of a blood glucose meter that sends glucose levels to MedWatch via a cellular network within 20 seconds after a reading.

A unique opportunity
“This is a novel approach to diabetes management,” says study leader Laura Garabedian, MPH, PhD, a member of the Division of Health Policy and Insurance Research within the Institute’s Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Our collaboration provides a unique opportunity to rigorously evaluate an insurer-led initiative to improve quality of care and outcomes for people living with diabetes.”

Monitoring and intervening
The MedWatch nurses monitor the readings 24/7 to make sure the members’ blood glucose levels aren’t too high or low. They also look for patterns. If necessary, they call the patient immediately, help them get their levels under control, then have them retest.

The MedWatch nurses fill the gaps between doctors’ visits. “People with diabetes live with their condition 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but they spend an average of one hour with their doctor each year—four 15-minute visits—if they make their visits,” says Sally-Ann Polson, president of MedWatch.

The initial study is looking at predictors of uptake and use of the MedWatch program, such as member demographics, health care utilization and employer characteristics.

“If we can help stabilize this chronic disease and prevent ER visits, strokes, amputations, etc., up to 70% of the costs can be saved and lives improved.” says Polson. “The key is getting people engaged in the first place. Once that happens, they have tremendous success.”