How Do We Measure Successful Diabetes Care?

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.

Diabetes care

Source: diaTribe

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:

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.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Should We Be Screening Every Single Child for Type 1 Diabetes Risk?

If Type 1 diabetes struck you or a family member, it may well have seemed completely random, unpredictable, and unpreventable.

It’s less random than it might seem—with a drop of blood, doctors can roughly estimate the risk of developing the condition, even in a newborn baby. And while the condition cannot yet be prevented, education and awareness can make its onset significantly less damaging, possibly resulting in lifelong health gains.

Screening for type 1 diabetes risk could become a routine element of childhood checkups, applied to all children. Should it be?

How Screening Works

There are, generally speaking, two ways of screening for type 1 diabetes risk.

The first, autoantibody screening, tests the blood for the immune proteins that cause type 1 diabetes when they attack the pancreas’ Beta cells. Autoantibodies emerge unpredictably, and are best assessed in early childhood, when the risk of disease onset is at its highest.

The second, genetic screening, tests a patient’s DNA for variations that are associated with type 1 diabetes. Genetic screening can be accomplished immediately after birth.

Screening of either sort rarely gives a definitive answer as to the likelihood that any one person will or will not develop type 1 diabetes—it places a patient in a bracket of higher or lower risk. One exception is when a blood test finds multiple autoantibodies present in one person, which can be said to indicate very early (subclinical) type 1 diabetes. In these cases, it may be years before the symptoms become noticeable.

Much of the data linking antibody presence with risk factors comes from the long-running Trialnet Pathway to Prevention study. TrialNet has been celebrated in the diabetes community for providing simple and free screening to so many. Click the link, and you can contribute to the body of knowledge by getting yourself (or a family member) screened.

Genetic and autoantibody screening can be used separately, but the most accurate projections use the two (along with any family history of diabetes) in concert.

The Benefits of Screening

Type 1 diabetes isn’t, so far as we know, preventable. So why screen for it at all?

Perhaps the single largest benefit to type 1 diabetes screening is the reduced incidence of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). When doctors, patients, parents, and caregivers are all aware that one patient has an increased risk, they’ll be more likely to identify hyperglycemia early, before it progresses to a critical state.

Avoiding DKA, a dangerous and incredibly painful condition, is just the start of it: studies have also shown that patients that got an early warning of the risk of type 1 diabetes also go on to have reduced A1c, fewer diabetes symptoms, and increased residual beta cell functioning. The earlier you catch the progression of type 1 diabetes, the healthier you’re likely to be in the coming years and perhaps even decades.

While researchers can’t always prove a causal relationship, mounting evidence appears to show that the severity of hyperglycemia at diagnosis can have a lasting and possibly even lifelong effect. In our recent article on diabetes and the brain, for instance, we learned that children that experience severe DKA at diagnosis have measurably worse cognitive impairment compared to children that did not have DKA. This effect lasts for years, and may be permanent.

And then there’s the game-changing drug teplizumab, which appears to delay the progression of symptomatic diabetes for years when given to patients that already have two or more antibodies. Those delays can be hugely valuable to families, meaning both enhanced health and emotional well-being. An expert panel recently voted to recommend that the FDA approve the drug. If teplizumab proves to be as effective as hoped, it would significantly strengthen the case for large-scale type 1 diabetes risk screening.

Teplizumab may just be the start, as doctors are working on other novel approaches to delaying (or preventing) type 1 diabetes. At the moment, for example, trials are underway to see if infants with a genetic predisposition to the condition will be less likely to develop the disease if given the probiotic B. infantis or insulin powder. Who knows what other therapies the future could bring?

Experiments with Universal Screening

At the recent American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions, Germany’s Dr. Anette-Gabriele Ziegler discussed the results of two different experiments in universal diabetes screening. In these studies, all children within a certain area were tested for type 1 diabetes antibodies, regardless of family history.

The first, named the Fr1da study, tested children aged 2-5 during their regular check-ups in Bavaria, Germany. Only 0.29% of these Bavarian children got the bad news that they had the antibodies indicating subclinical type 1 diabetes.

While this was a very thin slice of the population, that knowledge still made a big difference. 81 tested Bavarian children went on to develop full-blown type 1 diabetes within the next three years; of those 81, only three developed DKA, an astoundingly low 3.7%. This was an immense improvement over the status quo – elsewhere in Germany, about 45% of newly diagnosed children developed DKA. And even that 3.7% seems somewhat inflated – of the three kids that suffered DKA, two of them belonged to families that declined diabetes education after receiving the positive test results.

In short, testing about 140,000 kids saved about 36 (and counting) from DKA and from whatever other long-term health deficits that acute hyperglycemia might have caused in the future. It also significantly reduced stress in the parents of newly diagnosed children.

A similar effort in Colorado, named ASK, delivered similar results. While only 0.52% of the participants were found to have subclinical type 1 diabetes, only 6% of them developed DKA, a vast improvement over usual rates.

Dr. Ziegler said, “We would like to screen everybody.”

The Downside of Screening Too Many

So why not start screening every child now? It costs money. Insurance companies will need to be convinced that it’s worth paying for.

The cost of screening may be significant, and the cost of follow-up education can be even higher.

Even if we can screen all children for type 1 diabetes, it’s not at all clear how many families should receive diabetes education, as Dr. Richard Oram of the UK’s University of Exeter expressed in a presentation at the conference.

Suppose, for example, that we had a universal genetic testing program – every newborn child in the country gets his or her drop of blood analyzed. At what level of genetic risk do you begin to apply education and intervention?

If you draw the line at the infants in the top 10% highest risk, you’ll identify nearly 80% of the kids that are going to develop type 1 in the coming years … but that’s only 2.4% of the kids selected for extra attention, meaning it’s likely a waste of time for the remaining 97.6%. On the other hand, if you only choose to educate the tiny minority of kids with the highest risks, you’ll waste less time, but ultimately only identify less than 10% of the children that will go on to develop type 1.

Public health experts are not ready to just brush aside all that education delivered to families that don’t really need it. And it’s not just a question of wasted time or money – as noted by Dr. Laura Smith, a clinical psychologist at USF, studies have shown that these screening programs can result in clinically significant levels of stress or anxiety for kids and caregivers alike. Parents will also often attempt to change their kids’ diets or increase their monitoring of their kids’ health, perhaps unnecessarily.

Profit and Loss

In reality, it will likely be the insurance companies that decide where to draw the line. The most important question, sad as it sounds, is whether or not testing children for type 1 diabetes risk is cost-effective.

Early research into this question tended to say that no, broad screening efforts are not economically worthwhile. A 2015 study concluded that screening would have to cost $1 or less in order to be viable (it’s a lot higher)—anything more would cost too much to justify the health improvements.

That study, however, looked only at the impact of reduced incidence of DKA, and not at the other benefits for patients. The University of Colorado’s Dr. R. Brett McQueen argued to the Scientific Sessions audience that this early study fell short of the mark, because screening is likely to offer many benefits beyond just DKA avoidance.

Dr. McQueen presented his own study, which assumed that screening would result in lifelong health improvements for patients with new-onset type 1 diabetes, such as improved A1c. While McQueen’s work confirmed that DKA avoidance alone was not enough to justify the high cost of most screening programs, those other benefits may tip the scales. Even an extremely modest improvement in glycemic control can make a big difference over the years, leading to many fewer diabetic complications and expensive interventions. And that’s before we even consider teplizumab, the potentially groundbreaking therapy that can delay onset for years.

The cost of screening is certainly substantial – Colorado’s ASK screening program ended up spending about $4,700 per case detected, a number that could be even higher when implemented elsewhere. But DKA and diabetes complications—think retinopathy and kidney disease—are pretty expensive too.

This type of math requires some guesswork. McQueen stated that if we want a rigorous accounting of how cost-effective early screening is likely to be, we’ll need about 30 years of follow-up data. Of course, we don’t have the luxury to sit back and wait for generations—“we need to make these decisions now.”

Conclusion

Today there is virtually no screening for type 1 diabetes risk factors in mainstream medical practice. There are many children (millions worldwide) that are at an enhanced risk of developing type 1 diabetes, and would stand to benefit from diabetes awareness and education.

Screening (and follow-up education) can have a significant positive effect. Risk screening has been shown to dramatically reduce the incidence of DKA, and is likely to improve diabetes management and reduce stress and anxiety. And the recent development of teplizumab, a drug that can delay the onset of the disease, may make early screening even more efficacious.

The most accurate screening would combine genetic testing at birth with antibody testing in early childhood, either once at age 3-4, or twice, at ages 2-3, and again at 5-7. But even a single test, either of genetics or autoantibodies, can provide significant predictive value.

Screening for type 1 diabetes risk could become a routine element of childhood checkups—if doctors and insurers can be convinced that it’s worth the effort, time, and money.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Bethany’s Story: My Eye Started Bleeding the Day My First Child Was Born

This content originally appeared on Beyond Type 1. Republished with permission.

By Ginger Vieira

“My first bleed was almost 12 years ago — the day my first baby was born,” explains Bethany, who’s lived with type 1 diabetes for nearly 40 years, since she was 3 years old.

Despite receiving preventative laser treatments to the concerning blood vessels in this area of her eye prior to and throughout her pregnancy, the stress of pregnancy and pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) were enough to cause them to bleed.

“There was a bunch of trauma around that, because the bleed was the catalyst for me to have an emergency c-section. That was the biggest bleed I’ve had and it took a long time to clear up.”

Since then, Bethany has experienced minor bleeds off and on, but has also gone long stretches of time without any new bleeds.

Ginger Vieira

Image Source: Beyond Type 1

“Last October I had another bad one,” says Bethany. “It was so discouraging, because I haven’t had any new abnormal vessel growth, I’m not pregnant, I don’t have blood pressure issues, and my A1C is stellar. It just happened.”

“It’s cleared up since then without traditional treatments like a vitrectomy or steroid shots, but it took quite a while because it leaked more blood and fluid for a few weeks after the initial burst,” she adds. “At this point, I’d say I’m back to where I was pre-October in terms of vision, but maybe it’s a bit messier.”

My Experience With Laser Treatments for Retinopathy

“I’ve only had laser treatments,” says Bethany, who’s been able to manage her retinopathy without more invasive treatments.

“I’m not sure the experience qualifies as ‘pain’ so much as ‘misery’. It’s horribly uncomfortable, and it does begin to be painful as the treatment goes on, but it’s not what I’d describe as particularly painful.”

Eventually, Bethany says she used a low dose of a mild sedative to help take the anxiety out of receiving laser treatments. While it can’t change how it feels physically, it can help make the overall experience a bit less stressful.

“It’s hard to catch your breath, and it feels like being tortured, and my eyes pour with tears, but it’s all more of a dull feeling other than a bit of a sensation that a rubber band is being snapped behind your eye.”

Parenting a Newborn With Low Vision

“Nursing a baby and not being able to see her face clearly when she’s on your left side was heartbreaking,” recalls Bethany.

“Struggling to read a book to a child, wondering if you’ll have another bad bleed when you’re at the store with your child, not being able to lift an older child because it might exacerbate the bleed—it all sucked.”

Fortunately, by the time her second pregnancy began, Bethany’s eyes were ready.

“It was so much easier,” she says. “No pre-eclampsia, no eye issues. It was such a relief after being so terrified to try it all a second time.”

Today, she says she’s careful how much to share with her children about her eye complications.

“After my recent bad bleed, it was my oldest daughter (the one who was born the day of my first bleed) who held me while I sobbed, because she was ready to support me,” recalls Bethany. “That was so bittersweet and beyond meaningful.”

What My Vision Is Like Today

“I wouldn’t say I live with ‘low vision’ today but there is a blobby mess in one eye,” explains Bethany. “My brain has learned to adapt, and I can see around it. I don’t read super fine print very well, but I’m not sure I would even without retinopathy since I’m getting old!”

However, Bethany would say she did have low vision for a period of time — and it wasn’t easy.

“After those two bad bleeds, I did have trouble with the vision in one eye for a while, until the blood cleared. That was hard, but I’m grateful it wasn’t long-term.”

However she says that it’s also affected her life in other ways when there are bleeds.

“My eyes feel strained, I have headaches, and I definitely don’t feel comfortable driving until the bleeding has cleared up.”

The worry and anticipation of a potential new bleed feels like a ticking time bomb.

“I try not to think about what my vision could be like later in life, but I do wonder if I’ll be able to see my grandkids clearly, and if I should retire early so I can make the most of my later years while I still have vision. In day-to-day life it’s pretty minimal, but in terms of mental/emotional load it’s huge and it’s always there.”

How My Diabetes Management Has Changed

“I smartened up with my diabetes management big time since the first time the doc saw something in my eye,” explains Bethany. “Since that day I’ve been highly motivated to do this well.”

Having lived with type 1 diabetes since age 3 in the 1980s with early glucose meter technology and insulin options were severely limited, Bethany feels quite sure the first 25 years of her life with diabetes led to the complications in her eyes.

“My A1c was usually in the low double digits when I was a child, because avoiding low blood sugars was considered the safest way to manage diabetes in a young child back then,” says Bethany.

By the time she was in her 20s, technology and advancements in insulin helped her manage an A1c in the 7s and 8s. Once she started using an insulin pump, she was able to maintain an A1c below 7.0 during both pregnancies.

“I’ve always, always, tried really hard with my diabetes,” adds Bethany, “but it was like I spent 25 years trying to solve a puzzle that finally started to come together in the last 15 with a pump, a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), and eating low-carb.”

While Bethany used an insulin pump for 5 years, she’s managed her diabetes with MDI (multiple daily injections) for the last 8 years, and maintained an A1c below 7 percent, and around 5.8 percent for the last year.

“Using a pump, two pregnancies, and eating mostly low-carb definitely taught me so much more than I knew before I used an insulin pump,” explains Bethany. “But I was having a lot of issues with scar tissue which made infusion sites for pumping complicated. And I hated being tethered to my pump.”

The mental game of diabetes, she adds, is a huge part of it.

“There’s always a fear lurking that it could happen again at any time. More so since this last one,” says Bethany. “You never really escape it because you never know that you’re safe. You can do everything right from a certain point on, but the damage is already done.”

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Heart Failure – The Overlooked Diabetes Complication, Part 1: What and Why?

This content originally appeared on diaTribe. Republished with permission.

By Ben Pallant

Learn what heart failure is, what it has to do with diabetes, and how to identify and talk about this complication that’s often less discussed.

Healthcare professionals often discuss diabetes complications such as vision loss (retinopathy), chronic kidney disease (nephropathy), and cardiovascular disease (referred to as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease by healthcare professionals). However, there is a less talked about heart complication, heart failure. Heart failure refers to a condition where the heart’s ability to pump blood is less than normal, often meaning not enough blood is effectively circulating to the rest of the body.

This is part one of a two-part series on heart failure and diabetes.

What is heart failure?

First, it’s important to differentiate heart failure from other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, a heart attack, or cardiac arrest. There is also the broad term “heart disease,” which can encompass any heart issue. Because the names can get confusing, here are some brief explanations:

  • Cardiovascular disease, or atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, is related to the process called atherosclerosis, which occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in your arteries making it difficult for blood to flow normally. The plaque buildup can be caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol or triglycerides, smoking, or a number of other reasons. When it builds up in the arteries that supply blood to heart muscles or the brain, a heart attack or stroke can occur. Read our article on diabetes and heart disease here.
  • In a heart attack, the blood flow (and the oxygen supply, since blood carries oxygen throughout the body) to the heart muscle is blocked, causing damage to the heart muscle.
  • Heart failure happens when the heart isn’t able to pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
  • Cardiac arrest is the sudden loss of heart function. Usually due to an issue with the heart’s electrical system that disrupts a regular heartbeat, cardiac arrest causes the heart to stop pumping blood to the rest of the body.

There are a number of reasons why heart failure can occur, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, previous heart attacks, or other conditions and structural issues that damage the heart muscle (like cardiomyopathy or heart valve problems). Your chances of developing heart failure also increase as you get older. The heart’s inability to pump enough blood usually happens in one of two ways:

  1. When the heart muscle becomes stiff, the chambers in the heart cannot relax. This decreases the fill capacity of your heart chambers. Nevertheless, the heart is still able to release more than 50% of the blood in the heart chamber to the rest of the body. This type of heart failure is called “heart failure with preserved ejection fraction,” or HFpEF.
  2. When the heart muscle becomes weaker, not enough blood goes out to the body with each heartbeat. Thus, the percentage of blood that is released to the body is less than 50% of the amount in the heart chamber. This type of heart failure is called “heart failure with reduced ejection fraction,” or HFrEF.

Diabetes and prediabetes have been associated with both types of heart failure. Heart failure overall is a widespread health challenge – over 6 million Americans live with heart failure, and it leads to about 1 million hospitalizations per year in the US.

Heart failure is usually a chronic condition that progresses over time. At first, people may not experience any physical symptoms at all because the body has ways of trying to compensate – the heart may become bigger, it could develop more muscle mass, or it could try to pump faster. Over time though, heart failure worsens leading to shortness of breath, fatigue, inability to exercise, and more. Eventually the heart’s decreased ability to pump blood causes fluid to build up in other parts of the body, including the legs and lungs, which makes ordinary things like breathing and walking difficult. This is called congestive heart failure (CHF).

To learn more about heart failure, check out the American Heart Association’s heart failure resources.

What does heart failure have to do with diabetes?

Heart failure is unfortunately one of the most common and deadly complications of diabetes, especially for people with type 2 diabetes. They are two to four times more likely to develop heart failure than people without diabetes, and having diabetes increases a person’s risk for repeat hospitalizations for heart failure. This is partly because many of the key risk factors for heart failure are common in people with type 2 diabetes, such as a body mass index (BMI) over 25 (click here for a BMI calculator), high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, or a history of a heart attack. Other risk factors for heart failure include heart valve problems, sleep apnea, lung disease, and smoking.

But the shared risk factors alone don’t explain everything – diabetes itself is an independent risk factor for heart failure. According to several research studies, each percentage point increase in A1C is associated with an increased risk (8-36%) of heart failure. Researchers suspect that over time, high blood sugar levels either damage the cells of the heart muscles or force the heart to work harder due to damage to smaller blood vessels throughout the body and in the heart – this may be why high glucose levels are associated with heart failure.

Signs, symptoms, and screening

The Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association have identified a number of possible symptoms of heart failure. These include:

  • Shortness of breath during activity or when you lie down
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles and feet, and very rapid weight gain (due to fluid retention)
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing (or coughing that produces pink, foamy mucus)
  • Chest pain if the heart failure is caused by a heart attack
  • Lack of appetite or nausea
  • Confusion or impaired thinking

It is especially important to seek immediate medical attention if you experience chest pain, severe fatigue or weakness, rapid or irregular heartbeats with shortness of breath or fainting, or sudden, severe shortness of breath especially if it is associated with coughing up pink, foamy mucus. For CHF especially, seeking timely medical attention is essential.

Talking to your healthcare team is key to making sure you are staying healthy, and it can help identify an early diagnosis. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, ask your healthcare professional if you can be tested for heart failure. Even if you aren’t exhibiting symptoms, start a conversation about what you can do to stay healthy and prevent future complications.

How do healthcare professionals test for heart failure?

Heart failure is most commonly assessed using medical imaging techniques that allow healthcare professionals to “see” the heart and assess its function. The most common test associated with heart failure is echocardiography (often called an “echo”) which is a non-invasive, painless ultrasound image of the heart. The echocardiogram can show how thick the heart muscle is and how much blood is pumped out of the left ventricle (one of the heart’s four chambers) with each beat. This information can be used to determine whether heart failure involves preserved or reduced ejection fraction.

Other imaging tests include an x-ray, an MRI, and a myocardial perfusion scan. An x-ray can see if the heart is enlarged or if there is fluid in the lungs, two signs of CHF. If your healthcare professional is concerned that there may be damage to the heart muscle or blockages of major blood vessels to the heart muscle, they may recommend an MRI. A myocardial perfusion scan uses a tiny amount of a radioactive substance that allows the heart to be imaged. It can show how well the heart muscle is pumping and areas with poor blood flow. This scan is often done with an exercise stress test (explained below).

In addition to these different imaging techniques, healthcare professionals use exercise stress tests (which measure how a person responds to increasingly difficult exercise) as a measure of heart function, blood tests to check for heart failure-associated strain on the kidney and liver, or an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) test to look at the heart’s electrical activity for signs of a heart attack and to see if the heart rhythm is abnormal.

Before any of these heart tests are ordered, your healthcare team will usually conduct a physical exam to determine what your symptoms are and what tests are needed. It’s important to be honest – your healthcare team needs to know about your lifestyle, including whether you smoke cigarettes, eat a lot of high-fat foods, and are physically active. Be prepared to answer other questions too:

  • When did symptoms begin?
  • How severe are the symptoms?
  • Does anything make the symptoms better or worse?
  • Do you have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure?
  • Are you taking any medications, including over-the counter-drugs, vitamins, supplements, or prescriptions?

To learn more about heart failure, including prevention, medication options, and management tips, read “Heart Failure – The Overlooked Diabetes Complication, Part 2: Prevention and Management,” which our team will be updating this summer. You can also check out the Know Diabetes By Heart resources on heart failure.

This article was originally published on June 15, 2018. It was updated in May 2021 by Matthew Garza as part of a series to help people with diabetes learn how to support heart health, made possible in part by the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association’s Know Diabetes by Heart initiative.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

The Latest on Eylea: A Leading Treatment for Diabetes-Related Retinopathy

This content originally appeared on diaTribe. Republished with permission.

By Kira Wang

New results on Eylea, a treatment for diabetes-related retinopathy, show that the therapy reduces the risk of more serious eye complications when used for prevention.

Key findings were recently published on Eylea, a common therapy in the US used to treat several eye conditions including diabetes-related eye disease. According to Dr. Jennifer Sun (co-chair of the Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network), 60% of patients may not know they have some form of early-stage diabetes-related retinopathy which may not affect one’s ability to see. The clinical trial was focused on prevention: does early Eylea treatment of diabetes-related retinopathy result in better vision later on? The answer may not yet be clear – while Eylea was found to reduce specific vision-threatening complications, it did not meaningfully improve vision outcomes in the published study.

Eylea is an approved treatment for diabetes-related macular edema and diabetes-related retinopathy, two of the eye complications associated with diabetes. Eylea is an anti-VEGF therapy, meaning that the drug blocks VEGF, a protein that is necessary for new blood vessel growth. The medication is injected into the eye by an ophthalmologist every four to 16 weeks, depending on the severity of the eye disease.

The trial looked at 328 adults with early-stage diabetes-related retinopathy (also called non-proliferative diabetes-related retinopathy) and excellent vision. At the beginning of the study, about half of the eyes received Eylea injections every 16 weeks, and the other half received a placebo injection (which included no medication). The preliminary data were reported through two years. The study will continue for a total of four years.

The researchers were studying two main outcomes in these eyes:

  • Changes in the anatomy of the retina (for evidence of either a more advanced stage of diabetes-related retinopathy, called proliferative diabetes-related retinopathy, or the development of swelling called center-involved diabetes-related macular edema). These can be thought of as structural changes in the eye.
  • A functional difference in participants’ ability to see, known as their visual acuity. See below for key findings after two-years:

The trial found that Eylea led to improved anatomical outcomes and reduced the risk of more serious eye complications:

  • Eylea reduced the risk of developing complications by 68% when compared to the placebo. The probability of developing any complication was 16% in the Eylea group and 44% in the placebo group.
  • Individually, participants taking Eylea were 66% less likely to develop more advanced stages of diabetes-related retinopathy (proliferative diabetes-related retinopathy) and 64% less likely to develop macular edema with vision loss.
  • People receiving placebo injections were five times more likely to need additional treatment (with Eylea) with worsening of the eye disease.
  • There was no difference in the vision quality of either group after two years (excellent vision in 75% of the treatment group and 72% of the placebo group).

The four-year results of the trial will be important in determining whether the higher rate of complications in the placebo group might eventually lead to more vision loss in that group. If this is the case, treating diabetes-retinopathy in its earliest stages with Eylea may present a long-term benefit for vision.

There are several treatment options for diabetes-related eye disease, including oral medications, laser treatments for the eyes, and therapies like Eylea. Increasingly, surgical techniques are being used for less advanced stages of diabetes-related eye disease. Other novel strategies are also being investigated to avoid needing regular injections into the eye.

More information is needed before Eylea can be considered for use as a widespread tool to prevent worsening of diabetes-related retinopathy. Dr. Sun’s bottom line for clinicians and patients? “With regular follow-up and rigorous evaluation, the chances of continuing to have good vision, even with severe non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy and moderate non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, are excellent. I don’t think this study says that early treatment should be routinely given yet. It is important to hang tight and wait for four-year results.”

The most important action people with diabetes can take is to have an annual dilated eye exam, in addition to managing glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. If diabetes-related eye disease worsens, there a number of options that can be used to prevent vision loss. To learn more about protecting your eyes and treating eye disease, check out our series: Caring For Your Eyes.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Diabetes & Smoking: What You Need to Know

Most of us know that smoking is horrible for one’s health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, yet over 34 million Americans still smoke tobacco cigarettes nearly every day.

Unsurprisingly, smoking is even worse for your health if you live with diabetes. This article will outline the reasons why smoking is so bad for people with diabetes and what you can do to stop smoking.

Smoking Is Bad for Everyone

Smoking is the leading cause of lung diseases, including COPD, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also contributes to the growth and development of many types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon and rectum, and acute myeloid leukemia. On average, life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than for nonsmokers.

The American people have known for a long time that smoking causes cancer. Nearly 60 years ago, in 1964, the then U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry issued a definitive report linking smoking cigarettes with lung cancer for the first time. Smoking is even worse for people living with chronic diseases, especially diabetes.

Why Is Smoking Especially Bad for People With Diabetes?

People with diabetes who smoke are more likely to have serious health problems and complications, including heart and kidney disease, poor blood flow to the extremities, increased risk of infections, higher incidence of foot ulcers, increased rates of lower limb amputation, and retinopathy, which increases the likelihood of blindness than people with diabetes who do not smoke.

Why is this so?

People with diabetes are constantly working to manage their blood sugars and prevent complications brought on by the disease that include damage to the nerves, eyes, kidneys, and heart. The tobacco in cigarettes exacerbates these issues and accelerates the rate of decline in a person already suffering from a chronic disease.

There are over 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes, 70 of which are directly linked to the development of cancer, aging, and oxidative stress. For example, some of the chemicals found in cigarettes include toilet cleaner, candle wax, insecticide, arsenic, nicotine, lighter fluid, and carbon monoxide, just to name a few. These addicting, dangerous chemicals cause harm to your body’s cells, interfering with their normal function.

In a person with diabetes, the harm caused by a cigarette’s chemicals and nicotine causes chronic inflammation, resulting in insulin resistance and higher blood sugars, and thus makes it harder to manage one’s diabetes.

All of these issues compound to make diabetes management harder, and complications more likely. For people with diabetes, the health risks of smoking a cigarette is four times greater than for someone without diabetes.

Even more striking, a 2014 study revealed that smokers are 30-40% also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, making the relationship between cigarette smoking and diabetes a vicious cycle.

quit smoking

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Reduce Your Risk and Improve Your Health by Quitting Smoking

The best thing to do if you have diabetes and smoke is to quit immediately, and it’s never too late to quit! Quitting smoking before age 40 results in lifespans as long as people who have never smoked, and one’s lungs start to immediately heal the day they stop smoking.

Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of death (associated with continued smoking) by 90%, and quitting before age 30 avoids more than 97% of the risk of death associated with continued smoking into adulthood. The sooner, the better, but there never is a bad time to quit smoking.

Studies have shown that people who have diabetes start to respond to insulin better and their insulin resistance drops within 8 weeks of quitting smoking. 

Quitting smoking may be one of the hardest tasks you ever undertake, but the benefits are worth it: a longer, healthier life, better blood sugars, lower HbA1c levels, and fewer diabetes complications.

How to Stop Smoking

There are many resources available to people who want to quit smoking, including:

If you have diabetes and you’re a smoker, take heart: there is never a bad time to quit smoking, and quitting smoking won’t only improve your overall health, your diabetes management will likely become easier as well.

Quit smoking not only for yourself but for the health of your family as well. Lean on your loved ones for support, and work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that will work for you, minimize withdrawal symptoms, and make the transition to a smoke-free life easier.

Whatever it takes, give yourself grace: a new study reveals that smokers try to quit 30 times before they succeed, and living with the stress of diabetes can make those attempts even more challenging, but definitely more worthwhile for you and your health.

Have you quit smoking or tried to quit smoking in the past? What has worked best for you? Share your story in the comments below.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Most Important Vitamins People with Diabetes Need

People with diabetes have special dietary requirements, but unfortunately, lots of important vitamins and minerals are lacking in the standard American diet. That’s where vitamins can play a crucial role in supplementing one’s health. This article will outline the most important vitamins that people with diabetes need to live their healthiest life.

Vitamin B12

People with diabetes with nerve damage in their hands and feet may see their symptoms worsen if they have a vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 helps improve the health of red blood cells and boosts brain function.

Studies show that long-term use of the diabetes drug Metformin can lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency, and strong sources of the vitamin can be found in fish, dairy milk, meat products, and eggs. There are also vegan and vegetarian forms of Vitamin B12 that can be taken orally in pill form.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiencies are common in people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and a recent study out of Denmark has shown that people with diabetes who have a Vitamin D deficiency are at an increased risk of diabetes complications and premature death. Solving for this vitamin is cheap and easy: sitting in the sun for 15-20 minutes per day without sunscreen will restore most deficiencies, or Vitamin D can be found in fish, dairy products, or egg yolks.

Vitamin C

Increasing one’s intake of Vitamin C helps control the levels of sorbitol in the blood, which can be harmful at high levels and may contribute to retinopathy and kidney damage, which are common complications of diabetes. Vitamin C can also increase insulin sensitivity, reduce insulin resistance, and help people improve their HbA1c levels.

Vitamin C is found in many fruits (and juices) such as lemons, oranges, tomatoes, guava, watermelon, and strawberries, and is also readily available in supplement form. It is also abundant in vegetables like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and peppers.

Chromium

Studies show that chromium, found in brewer’s yeast, improves insulin sensitivity and tolerance in people with type 2 diabetes. Chromium helps maintain healthy skin, hair, and eyes. It is effective at supporting the nervous system and enhancing immune system function. Chromium can be found only in trace amounts in foods like meat, spices, and grains, so people with diabetes should take chromium supplements.

Curcumin

A 2013 meta-analysis shows that curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) lowers blood glucose levels, increases insulin sensitivity, and stabilizes blood sugar levels, helping to decrease the likelihood of complications in people with diabetes. Researchers also found that curcumin may play a role in diabetes prevention.

Turmeric and curcumin also help improve mood, which is important for people with diabetes as depression and anxiety are found at much higher rates in this population, aid in digestion, and even improve immune system health.

This extract can be found in over-the-counter supplements and can be added to foods in its natural form (Turmeric), found in the spice aisle of any grocery store. Make sure to consume turmeric with black pepper, as the spice enhances curcumin absorption in the body by up to 2,000%, maximizing its benefits.

Always work with your doctor and/or registered dietitian to determine which vitamins you should incorporate into your daily routine. Your doctor will most likely order a blood test or urine sample to determine what’s needed, but supplementing your diet with more vitamins and minerals can be helpful to achieve better blood sugars and lower HbA1c levels in the short term, and may even prevent long-term diabetes complications and premature death.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Managing My Anxiety of Possible Retinopathy

I remember feeling anxious. Sitting in the waiting room of the eye doctor in March of 2019, I knew this sensation all too well. It came from my experience of receiving “bad news” one too many times. I was nervous but quietly tried to connect with the inner knowing that I was not the only person who has to go through these types of feelings. With a deep breath in and a long breath out, I thought of my friends within the diabetes community who constantly remind me that I’m never alone.

When you live with diabetes, it often feels like you’re just waiting for that next thing to go wrong. We try to be positive but at the end of the day we’re still human and being scared of the unknown is normal. Even people without diabetes typically know the risks associated with trying to manage blood sugars without a properly functioning pancreas and/or metabolism. Heart disease, nerve damage, kidney failure, and blindness are issues people with diabetes may live in fear of since day one of their diagnosis.

Deep down, I knew something was off. My vision had changed enough that I had a sneaky suspicion this time would bring that moment where I would be told that there were now signs of diabetes in my eyes. And I was right.

The doctor informed me that I had retinal bleeds in both my eyes but that “I didn’t need to worry” and they wouldn’t need to treat it just yet. She even kindly offered to check them again in 6 months time if that might make me feel better. It did… and at the same time, it didn’t. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. Thoughts of friends who have gone through so much with their eyes raced through my mind. Would I have to experience all of that, too?

Photo credit: Sarah Macleod

I started to cry and felt the same sadness wash over me that I had felt in 2012 after being diagnosed with gastroparesis. The guilt and shame I had been working through for years knocked on the door to my heart but I knew that the only way through this moment was to face this new information with acceptance and an attitude that I wasn’t powerless.

I had been taking a pump break while in yoga teacher training and had decided to continue on injections after I had graduated from the program. However, upon being diagnosed with retinopathy, I made the decision to switch back to my insulin pump once again. Everyone is different, but for me, having an insulin pump is a privilege and asset I couldn’t ignore. I knew that utilizing the technology available to me would be in my best interest.

When it came time for my next appointment, the world had already been impacted by COVID-19 and I wasn’t able to get my eyes checked when I had anticipated. I did my best not to let the fear creep in, but working from home and being on screens more than ever before didn’t do much to quell my anxious mind. Yet I knew I had to keep going.

For months, I tried to find a balance between discipline and letting go of what I simply could not control. I stayed connected with the diabetes community and my peers who understood what it was like to be managing diabetes daily while also navigating additional complications, illnesses, and issues. Utilizing tools like emotional freedom technique, guided meditation, and yoga continued to be a way I could serve myself while remaining focused on the balance I wanted to achieve.

I can’t tell you how many tears I cried. The worry would consume me most when I thought of a potential future pregnancy, breastfeeding, and motherhood. I wanted to see the children of my dreams and soak in every freckle on their face, their tiny fingers, and little toes. I wanted to see my children grow and watch them become who they were meant to be. If I lost my vision, how could any of these dreams come true? I found acceptance in knowing that I was willing to do whatever it took to preserve my vision even if that meant facing treatment options that terrified me.

It took me so long to make that next eye doctor’s appointment. Yet I knew in 2021 I wanted to address any of the issues I had been avoiding because of the fears that still existed within. The night before my appointment, I joined a meditation session with my diabetes friends and appreciated the energy, loving-kindness, and support that our “diabetesangha” was offering to me. It allowed me to relax, be present with how I was feeling, and honor any emotion that was coming to the surface to be acknowledged and released.

Sitting in that chair again, eyes dilated and heart open, I felt hopeful that I may be given the news that nothing had changed and to just keep working towards optimal glycemic control. However, the news I received was even better than I had anticipated. The doctor told me she could no longer see any signs of diabetes in my eyes. The retinal bleeds were gone and I was doing just fine. I was overjoyed and elated at the knowledge that I had reversed my diabetic retinopathy.

Each one of us living with diabetes is different. Despite ardent efforts and steadfast diligence, we don’t always receive positive news or the outcomes we are most hopeful for. Yet it is important to recognize that we must not give up even when we’re given bad news. There are avenues of support as well as resources and recommendations from peers and professionals that can offer us a sense of empowerment. If you are struggling with diabetes complications, remember that you are never alone and that there are people who understand what you’re going through. Don’t lose hope and keep in mind that there are many paths to healing ourselves body, mind, and spirit.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Advice for Parents From Adults Who Grew Up as a Type 1

I am very grateful to have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 37. I think of all the times where having type 1 would have been challenging growing up. Navigating diabetes and childhood and adolescence isn’t easy but with love and support, anyone growing up with type 1 diabetes can thrive!

Oftentimes there are discussions within the diabetes online community that help others on how to navigate their role in this disease. Whether they are the person living with diabetes or a “type 3”, which is a loved one or caregiver, many people seek advice from others who have lived through it. A common post you will find is a dedicated parent asking for help from those who are now adults but have lived with this condition almost their entire lives. Being a parent of a child with type 1 is tricky, to say the least. You want to give them independence but you also worry and it is a tough balancing act.

We decided to ask our community of people with type 1 who have lived with it since childhood, “What do you appreciate most about how your parents dealt with your disease and what do you wish they did differently?”

Let’s be clear. This isn’t to fault or finger-point at parents who have a challenging role, as not only a parent, but a pancreas too. This information is solely to serve our community with insights and observations that can help them play a positive and supportive role in their child’s journey.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Here is what people who have lived with diabetes since childhood had to say:

“I cannot tell you how vital my parents were. They made this normal. They changed everything they were doing in an instant. If they questioned anything they never did it in front of me. They supported me and they encouraged me. They taught me to look at this as an opportunity to educate others because I was diagnosed in 1980 and we knew no one at the time. They taught me resilience and self-esteem in handling this disease. They let me know I could do anything. When I wanted to go to college far away, they didn’t discourage me. They never held me back. And this goes for every aspect of my life, not just this. I miss them both every day because they were my biggest fans and I knew it and still do.” – Sarah G.

“My parents didn’t hover. They basically let me control it with support and help. They guided me, we talked about it frequently, but they didn’t control it…I was diagnosed at 8. They never told me I couldn’t stay at a friend’s house and never treated me differently. I was able to do everything a normal kid would do.” – Andrea H.

“Encourage self-reliance. This is normal, We are normal. I am always in awe of you parents. You are amazing.” – Sarah G.

“I was diagnosed at 15 and felt capable of managing it. They didn’t bother me yet encouraged and helped in any way I needed. What I wish I knew was about low-carb and not just follow mainstream medicine. But hey, I’m not sure how open to that I would have been as a teenager so who knows”. – Shaina R.

“They bought me a pony, which I took full care of and showed them. I was up at 5 am and didn’t stop to the sun went down. Oh yes, I had diabetes. OK, I will handle that too.” – Laura W.

“I like the idea of making it into a science experiment. Obviously, it all depends on the child and parent and other considerations but an approach of “thinking out loud” is a good thing.” – Halvdan W.

“Back in 1971 when I was 16, I imagine that a doctor told my parents I was old enough to handle it by myself. They never told me that but they didn’t even learn how to give shots or test my urine! But back then, one shot a day and testing urine weren’t that big of a deal. I’m glad they did it that way. I just figured it out on my own and I’m better for it. Now I’m healthy at 66 and happy!” – Aimee P.

“I’m glad they made me take responsibility right away.”- Kelly L.

“Unwavering support. Crazy over the top, unwavering support and agreeing with me anytime I screamed, cried, cursed about how messed up it was that I had diabetes. She was also on the front foot regarding low-carb and would fight any doctor or anyone who spoke to me in a way that was condescending, rude, dismissive, etc. Just knowing she was there and that I could ask for help means so much to me and it’s helped me feel empowered to run my own race and do what is in my best interest.” – Gemma B.

“I wish they were involved. I was 9 when I was diagnosed and I felt really alone. Ask my mother about insulin and she will say she doesn’t know a thing about it. Plus she always told me I couldn’t have kids cause I have diabetes. Another lie, I met many type 1 ladies having 2-4 kids. Just focus on the positivity! As parents get involved and show you care! Communicate with your kids on their food choices, what activities they plan, double check they have everything, It’s great to get involved as a team.” – G.C.

“I wish they would have tightened up my diet a bit by feeding me fewer carbs but the dieticians and endos in the 90s told them I needed x amount per meal or I would die so they did what they thought they had to do. Eventually, they stopped listening though. All in all, they did a great job.” – C.S.

“All I can say is I wish they had found Dr. Bernstein and his methods. There is a lot I wish, but that is the biggest one!” – R.M.

“I liked that they sent me to a diabetes camp. That’s where I learned how to take of myself.” – Sally C.

“I’m grateful they let me be in charge and stay independent instead of micro-managing. I wish they had been more willing to learn about better control and nutrition. Although few doctors I’ve ever had were much help there so my parents were just going along with what they were told. I learned how to get better control in my late 20s through my own research and worry about the long-term damage that’s already been done. I’m now trying to help my parents take better care of their own health problems through nutrition and a healthier lifestyle.” – Melissa S.

“Even though I couldn’t see it then, my mom gave me the space I needed as a teenager to make mistakes and learn. She must have been so anxious by my behavior and I feel bad for that. But she supported me and set me up with everything I needed to become successful as an adult. She cheers me on now and I hope she knows I’m only doing so well because of her.” – Kelsey S.

“I was 12 when I was diagnosed and my parents did what they were told– just dose for the high-carb meals. Well, here I am at 30 years old with diabetic retinopathy that caused swelling when I was pregnant and I had to get injections and lasers in my eye which was super painful. I also have peripheral neuropathy so that is fun too. I eat low-carb/keto now to avoid spikes the best I can.” – A.R.

“They did a great job at encouraging me to embrace being diabetic, without it being something I needed to hide or feel quiet/embarrassed about. My mom brought a lot of enthusiasm into my diabetes management. Diabetes just became to me this interesting fun tidbit I could share with others and never saw it as something that reduced my value as a person. However, they did not make mental health support a priority, not giving me viable options which I needed as I had a severe needle phobia. It took me about 6 years after diagnosis to do my first injection, with upwards of 10 hours each week since diagnosis working on forcing myself to give a shot before I succeeded. And it wasn’t until 4-5 years after that, before it became “no big deal to me” It scares me to think I could have become on of those young diabetics that rarely take insulin because they wouldn’t acknowledge how serious my phobia was.” – A.A.

“I always felt empowered to manage this disease on my own from an early age. They never pushed but followed my cues and let me take over when I was ready. They did a great balancing act and I look at all the parents now in our community and my hats go off to you. You are all doing an incredible job.” – Matt. F.

“I felt like my disease wasn’t spoken about in front of others. It bothered me since it still always existed even in those moments. It gave me a huge complex about my disease and led me to many social issues down the road since I felt ashamed. I recommend talking freely about your child’s condition and never make them feel like they should hide it! They will have a much healthier outlook on their disease and that will translate to many other aspects of their life.” – V.V.

“Stay positive! Be there to listen! Educate yourselves and never settle for a doctor that you aren’t absolutely thrilled with. Find a doctor that both you and your child feel comfortable with. It may take time but it will be worth the wait for a much better experience for you both.” – Nicole M.

I hope the advice from members of our community helps you navigate your role as a parent of a type 1 child. Remember, every child is different and every situation is unique. Communicate with your child and do what works best for you, your child and your family.

Did you grow up living with type 1 diabetes? Do you have any advice to give parents raising a  child living with type 1 diabetes? Please share and comment below!

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Getting the Most Out of Your Remote Healthcare Visits

This content originally appeared on Integrated Diabetes Services. Republished with permission.

By Gary Scheiner MS, CDCES

A long, long time ago, before the days of coronavirus, there was a little diabetes care practice called Integrated Diabetes Services (we’ll just call it IDS for short). IDS taught people with diabetes all the wonderful things they can do to manage their diabetes. Word got out, and people who lived far from IDS’s local hamlet (better known as Philadelphia) wanted to work with IDS. Even people IN the hamlet wanted to work with IDS but were often too busy to make the trip to the office. So IDS had an idea: “Let’s offer our services via phone and the internet so that everybody who wants to work with us can work with us!” The idea took off, and IDS grew and grew.

And virtual diabetes care was born.

Today, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual healthcare has become a virtual norm. Often referred to as “telehealth” or “telemedicine,” people with diabetes are connecting with their healthcare providers for everything from medical appointments to self-management education to coaching sessions. Some consults are conducted via phone calls, while others utilize web-based video programs (like Zoom) or simple email or text messages. Regardless of the form, virtual care can be highly effective. But it can also have its limitations. Whether you’ve been receiving virtual healthcare for months or have yet to give it a try, it pays to learn how to use it effectively. Because virtual care will certainly outlive the pandemic.

What Can… and Can’t… Be Accomplished Virtually

Most diabetes care services, including medical treatment and self-management education, can be provided effectively on a remote basis. We have managed to teach our clients everything from advanced carb counting techniques to strength training routines to self-analysis of glucose monitoring data, all while helping them fine-tune their insulin program, on a 100% virtual basis.

Some clinics and private healthcare providers have gone 100% virtual since the pandemic began, while others are using a “hybrid” approach – periodic in-person appointments with virtual care in-between. Depending on the reason you’re seeking care, a hybrid approach makes a lot of sense. While virtual visits are generally more efficient and economical (and in many cases safer) than in-person appointments, there are some things that are challenging to accomplish on a remote basis. From a diabetes standpoint, this includes:

  • Checking the skin for overused injection sites
  • Learning how to use medical devices (especially for the first time)
  • Examining the thyroid gland and lymph nodes
  • Evaluating glucose data (unless you can download and transmit data to your provider)
  • Performing a professional foot exam
  • Listening to the heart rhythm and feeling peripheral pulses
  • Checking for signs of neuropathy and retinopathy
  • Measuring vital signs (unless you have equipment for doing so at home)

The Logistics

Virtual care can be provided in a variety of ways, ranging from a phone call to an email, text message or video conference. Video can add a great deal to the quality of a consultation, as it allows you and your healthcare provider to pick up on body language and other visual cues. It also permits demonstrations (such as how to estimate a 1-cup portion of food), evaluation of your techniques (such as how to insert a pump infusion set), and use of a marker board for demonstrating complex subjects (such as injection site rotation or how certain medications work).

When using video, it is important to have access to high-speed internet. A computer is almost always better than a phone for video appointments, as the screen is larger and has better resolution. If you have the ability to download your diabetes data, do so and share access with your healthcare provider a day or two prior to the appointment. It may also be helpful to share some of your “vital” signs at the time of the appointment – a thermometer, scale, and blood pressure cuff are good to have at home.

In many cases, care provided on a remote/virtual basis is covered by health insurance at the same level as an in-person appointment. This applies to public as well as private health insurance. However, some plans require your provider to perform specific functions during the consultation (such as reviewing glucose data) in order for the appointment to qualify for coverage. Best to check with your healthcare provider when scheduling the appointment to make sure the virtual service will be covered. At our practice (which is 100% private-pay), virtual and in-person services are charged at the same rates.

If security is of the utmost importance to you, virtual care may not be your best option. Although there are web-based programs and apps that meet HIPPA guidelines, there really is no way to guarantee who has access to your information at the other end. My advice is to weigh the many benefits of virtual care against the (minuscule) security risk that virtual care poses.

Optimizing the Virtual Experience

Just like in-person appointments, virtual care can be HIGHLY productive if you do a little bit of preparation.

  • Do yourself and your healthcare provider a favor and download your devices, including meters, pumps, CGMs, and any logging apps you may be using, prior to the appointment. If you don’t know how to download, ask your healthcare provider for instructions, or contact our office… we can set up a virtual consultation and show you how. If you have not downloaded your information before, don’t be intimidated. It is easier than you think. People in their 80s and 90s can do it. Oh, and look over the data yourself before the appointment so that you can have a productive discussion with your healthcare provider.
  • Be prepared with a list of your current medications, including doses and when you take them. Check before the appointment to see if you need refills on any of your medications or supplies. If you take insulin, have all the details available: basal doses (and timing), bolus/mealtime doses (and dosing formulas if you use insulin:carb ratios), correction formulas (for fixing highs/lows), and adjustments for physical activity.
  • Try to get your labwork done prior to virtual appointments. This will give your healthcare provider important information about how your current program is working.
  • To enhance the quality of the virtual meeting, do your best to cut down the background noise (TV off, pets in another room, etc…) and distractions (get someone to watch the kids). Use of a headset may be preferable to using the speakers/microphone on your phone or computer, especially if there is background noise or you have limited hearing.
  • Use a large screen/monitor so that it will be easy to see details and do screen-sharing. And use front lighting rather than rear lighting. When the lights or window are behind you, you may look more like a black shadow than your beautiful self. “Ring” lights are popular for providing front-lighting.
  • Provide some of your own vitals if possible – weight, temperature, blood pressure, current blood sugar. This is important information that your healthcare provider can use to enhance your care.
  • Prepare a list of topics/questions that you want to discuss. Ideally, write them on paper so that you can take notes during the appointment. If there is a great deal of detail covered, ask your healthcare provider to send you an appointment summary by mail or email.
  • Be in a private place that allows you to speak openly and show any body parts that might need to be examined – including your feet and injection/infusion sites.
  • Be a patient patient! Technical issues can sometimes happen. It is perfectly fine to switch to a basic phone call or reschedule for another time.
  • Courtesy. Be on-time for your virtual appointment. If you are delayed, call your healthcare provider’s office to let them know. And if you are not sure how to login or use the video conferencing system, call your provider beforehand for detailed instructions. This will help to avoid delays. Have your calendar handy so that a follow-up can be scheduled right away. Oh, one other thing: Try not to be eating during the appointment… it is distracting and a bit rude. However, treating a low blood sugar is always permissible!

If there is one thing we’ve learned during the pandemic, it’s that virtual care is a win-win for just about everybody. Expect it to grow in use long after the pandemic. In-person care will never go away completely, but for treating/managing a condition like diabetes, virtual care has a lot to offer… especially if you use it wisely.

Note: Gary Scheiner is Owner and Clinical Director of Integrated Diabetes Services, a private practice specializing in advanced education and intensive glucose management for insulin users. Consultations are available in-person and worldwide via phone and internet. For more information, visit Integrated Diabetes.com, email sales@integrateddiabetes.com, or call (877) 735-3648; outside North America, call + 1-610-642-6055.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

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