Over the past two decades, a growing number of health systems in the US have added diabetes education programs to the services they offer. Though it is easy to see the inherent value of these programs, it is far more difficult to assess their reach and overall success. For example, below we share findings from the NIH's Diabetes in America, 3rd Edition. Note the waivering trend lines in self-care practices:
Some organizations measure success by the number of patients who attend their Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME) courses. Others point to the number of patients receiving medical nutritional therapy, and some look at the number of patients attending diabetes support groups. While all of these indicators are important, the most crucial statistic for health systems to examine is their coverage of the total population.
Most diabetes education programs are serving less than 1% of the affected local population.
Currently, diabetes education and continuing care programs typically serve approximately 200 patients. However, most community health systems in the US are responsible for the care of thousands of diabetes patients, which means that most diabetes education programs are serving less than 1% of the affected local population.
The first step to maximizing the reach and success of any diabetes education program is to gain a complete understanding of the local population. Establishing an accurate count of their target audience enables health systems and hospitals to set outreach and engagement goals that can be measured against the total number of diabetes patients in the area.
The best way to gain a clear picture of the diabetes patients within a community is to analyze recent community needs assessments. Nonprofit hospitals and health systems typically conduct a needs assessment every 3-4 years, publishing local population health data and other key metrics. These assessments help to define the scope of diabetes and the number of people affected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is another valuable resource, as they provide data on the incidence and prevalence of diabetes at both the county and state level.
Data from community needs assessments and the CDC help health systems establish goals, while informing future diabetes education and outreach planning.
The chart below illustrates the current imbalance between diabetes patients and those engaged in Diabetes Self-Management/Education programs. In this example, a community has an estimated 55,000 people with diabetes. Given that primary care physicians typically have an average of 200 patients diagnosed with diabetes, it is imperative to ascertain the number of primary care physicians credentialed at the local hospital to quantify the total number of patients in their care. The total number of diabetes patients, those in primary care, and those discharged from the hospital each year are represented in the concentric circles below.
Out of 55,000 diabetes patients in this community, less than 250 completed a DSME program.
With a full understanding of their patient and primary care population, health systems are better equipped to meet the challenge of reaching and engaging tens of thousands, instead of hundreds of diabetes patients. Knowledge about the key physicians and the patient population in the local area empowers health systems to ensure that individuals with diabetes receive appropriate support by providing the right programming, to the right patients, at the right time.