Pharmacist-led diabetes program shows promise

NEW YORK Mon Apr 6, 2009 1:45pm EDT

A diabetic has his blood sugar level measured in downtown Los Angeles July 30, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A diabetic has his blood sugar level measured in downtown Los Angeles July 30, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A program that gets employers, pharmacists and people with diabetes to work together to reign in skyrocketing diabetes-related health care costs as well as improve patient health is showing promise, according to a report released today by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Foundation.

In the "Diabetes Ten City Challenge" conducted by the APhA with support from GlaxoSmithKline, Inc. 30 employers in 10 U.S. cities established a voluntary health benefit for employees, dependents and retirees with diabetes.

As part of the DTCC program, employers used incentives, such as waiving co-payments for diabetes medications and supplies, to encourage people to manage their diabetes with the help of local pharmacist "coaches" who help patients track their blood sugar levels and cholesterol, and to control their disease through exercise, nutrition and lifestyle changes. These specially trained pharmacists, who are matched to patients through the HealthMapRx program, also communicate with the patients' doctor if needed.

Data released today on 573 diabetic patients enrolled in the program for at least 1 year show that average total health care costs were reduced annually by nearly $1100 per patient, or 7.2 percent, compared with projected costs without the DTCC program. Patients also saved an average of $593 per year on their diabetes medications and supplies.

Significant improvements in key health measures were also evident, including a 23-percent increase in the number of patients achieving their goal blood sugar level set by American Diabetes Association; an 11 percent increase in the number of patients achieving optimal cholesterol levels; and a 39-percent increase in the number with patients getting their blood pressure under control.

Improvements in preventive care practices were also seen; the number of people up-to-date on flu vaccination rose from 32 percent to 65 percent; those with current eye exams increased from 57 percent to 81 percent; and those with current foot exams increased from 34 percent to 74 percent.

The study results appear in the May/June issue of the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association.

"The Ten City Diabetes Challenge demonstrated the power of partnership and the impact of putting patients at the center of their own care," Dr. Toni Fera, pharmacist and director of Reston, Virginia-based HealthMapRx, LLC, said in a statement issued by the APhA Foundation.

"The Ten City Diabetes Challenge provides a promising collaborative care model that blends important elements of a 'reformed' health care delivery process by integrating accessibility, patient-centeredness, and value achieved by helping patients to make clinical improvements while managing costs," added co-author Dr. Benjamin M. Bluml, APhA Foundation vice president for research.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, May/June 2009.

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