This content originally appeared on diaTribe. Republished with permission.
By Arvind Sommi, Andrew Briskin
Quality measures are tools to evaluate the effectiveness and quality of healthcare. Measures such as A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol are used to understand health at the population level to ensure people with diabetes are getting the best care possible. At The diaTribe Foundation, we believe that Time in Range would be a valuable addition to the quality measures for diabetes care.
During a routine office visit, your healthcare provider may check certain health measures such as your A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol. These tests are primarily used to assess your individual health and the effectiveness of your diabetes treatment plan. They are also used to evaluate the overall quality of care provided when these results are combined across all patients in a healthcare professional’s office, healthcare system, or health plan.
Recent advances in glucose monitoring, and the increasing use of continuous glucose monitors (CGM), has led to wider use of the metric Time in Range (TIR), which is a helpful supplement to A1C in assessing your glucose management. Because of this, TIR could be a valuable addition to the quality measures for diabetes care if it became a more widespread metric – a feat that is challenged by barriers to accessing CGM and integrating it into electronic health records.
What is a quality measure?
Quality measures can encompass many things but generally include different types of measurement domains, as outlined below.
Some tests, such as A1C screening or blood pressure monitoring, can serve as both a healthcare process and an outcome measure.
At the population level, outcome measures evaluate whether certain established goals are reached for a group of people. For example, this might be the percentage of patients in a healthcare practice with an A1C greater than or less than 9.0%. Quality measures, in this way, are used by insurance providers, people with diabetes looking for the best healthcare professionals to use, researchers, employers, and reporting agencies to better understand the effectiveness of diabetes treatments and evaluate how effective healthcare professionals or health systems are.
How are quality measures used in diabetes care?
Quality measures are important in diabetes care because achieving these goals can decrease the risk of diabetes complications and lead to improved health outcomes for everyone. There are several quality measures in diabetes care, many of which you may be familiar with through routine office visits with your healthcare team, such as:
- A1C levels
- Blood pressure levels
- LDL cholesterol levels
- Eye exams
- Tests for kidney function
- Foot exam
Primarily, the combined data from these tests across many people with diabetes is used to determine if certain treatment methods are effective for the entire population. The data can also be used to reinforce or dispute established standards of diabetes care and respond to new care innovations (such as the latest technology or treatments).
Along with their use in evaluating treatments and standards of care, quality measures can also be used to evaluate healthcare professionals. In some cases, healthcare provider reimbursements from Medicare or other insurance providers may be tied to results, particularly under a value-based care model (learn more about value-based care here). For example, A1C screenings might be reimbursed only if enough patients meet A1C targets below certain thresholds.
Why might including Time in Range in quality measures be helpful to you?
While A1C is the current quality measure used to assess glucose management in people with diabetes, A1C has limitations. The accuracy of A1C measurements can vary based on factors such as race/ethnicity or chronic kidney disease. A1C tests are also generally limited to every two to three months and only represent an average blood glucose level over that time, which means daily highs and lows are not explicitly captured. Additionally, while low blood sugar may lower your A1C, it can also increase your risk of severe hypoglycemia – meaning a lower A1C may be dangerous if you experience frequent low blood sugars or mild hypoglycemia.
Time in Range is a glucose metric typically measured by a CGM. It is the amount of time you spend in the target range – generally between 70 and 180 mg/dL. The goal for most people with diabetes is to have at least 70% of your glucose readings within this range. Understanding your TIR as well as your time above and below range can help you and your healthcare provider assess how your body responds to medications, food choices, daily activities, stress, and a variety of other factors that affect your glucose. The increased use of TIR could help equip people with diabetes and their healthcare team with the information they need to make vital healthcare decisions and experience better diabetes care.
“Time in Range allows for quick, actionable steps to improve diabetes management and corresponding health outcomes,” said Dr. Diana Isaacs, a diabetes care and education specialist from the Cleveland Clinic. “Time in Range can be assessed more frequently and provides more actionable insight into glucose management. Making it a quality measure would increase the utilization of this powerful tool. It has the potential to revolutionize how we take care of people with diabetes.”
Increases in TIR have been associated with a reduced risk of microvascular complications such as eye (retinopathy) and nerve disease (neuropathy), with similar evidence emerging for other macrovascular complications such as heart disease. Plus, the use of CGM has increased dramatically over the last few years (for example in people with type 1 diabetes in the T1D Exchange registry, this number rose from 6% in 2011 to 38% in 2018), allowing more people with diabetes to use TIR data on a regular basis.
However, there are still barriers to integrating TIR as a quality measure for diabetes care. One major challenge is the many barriers to using a CGM. For instance, most insurers cover CGM only for a limited number of people with diabetes (for example, those with type 1 diabetes who take insulin). Until access is substantially expanded and more people are able to use CGM who wish to, TIR adoption into the standard quality measures will be difficult.
An additional challenge is that TIR data is not integrated into most electronic health records (EHR) used by clinicians, making it difficult for providers to analyze TIR data for all patients and to assess TIR at the community level. Efforts are currently underway to change these systems so that TIR can be integrated into her systems, similar to metrics like A1C and blood pressure; at the ADA Scientific Sessions this year Dr. Amy Criego spoke to the success that the International Diabetes Center in Minnesota has had with integrating Abbott LibreView data into their EHR.
Through the efforts of the Time in Range Coalition, diaTribe is working to increase awareness and hopefully the eventual adoption of TIR as a meaningful quality measure in diabetes care.