Diabetes management has come a long way since the first glucometers hit the market in the 1980s. Before this revolutionary technology, most patients checked their glucose and adjusted their medications four times a year during visits to the doctor’s office. During the long months in between, patients were largely left to guess how to approach many aspects of their diabetes treatment and management plans.
Over the past 40 years, advances by device and drug manufacturers have changed the way we monitor and manage diabetes. Patients can now monitor glucose at five-minute intervals and receive algorithm-enabled devices to automatically deliver insulin, add carbohydrates and track various related health metrics in real time.
Although these technologies are much more sophisticated, they still present various challenges that must be overcome. We are now asking patients to become data scientists, analyzing and reacting to graphs and numbers throughout the day. At the same time, patients are responsible for navigating their insurance benefits and managing input from all stakeholders who seek to inform and influence how the patient self-manages their disease.
Unfortunately, patients don’t always have the education and support they need to successfully use their devices, interpret the many numbers generated, and integrate key information into their diabetes journey.
There is a critical and untapped opportunity to ensure that patients have a clear and direct path to better self-management by leveraging one of the most important connections for a person with diabetes: their connection to their device and supply distributors.
Distributors typically interact with patients at least once a month during the diabetes supply delivery process, creating an organic opportunity to touch base with those who may need additional support as they manage their own health.
Distributors can and should expand to fill device training gaps and actively support the work of providers and health plans. This innovative approach holds real promise to ensure that the patient journey is seamless and enable people with type 2 diabetes to live healthier lives.
The complex challenges of diabetes management in the current care environment
People with diabetes often interact with multiple care providers, including a primary care physician, endocrinologist, nutritionist, and diabetes educator. Each stakeholder has a role to play. However, it can be difficult to coordinate care, especially around the development of the patient’s self-management skills. This can lead to less than optimal outcomes and patient satisfaction.
Without truly coordinating care, patients may receive conflicting information or simply be overwhelmed by feedback and insights from providers, payers, device manufacturers, pharmacists, and other members of the care team.
For example, some patients may be overwhelmed by the idea of setting up and using a new device. They might just put the newly delivered box in the closet and close the door. If no one takes care of the integration, the expensive device may simply remain unused.
Patients deserve opportunities to manage their diabetes. Education about new supplies and devices should come from a trusted source who knows when new devices are prescribed and how patients can best learn how to use technology and tools to manage diabetes.
Using resellers to provide device training at the right place at the right time
Distributors may not be top of mind when considering another proactive diabetes management partner, but there are several clear reasons why they should be more involved in training, education and support.
For one thing, there is an alarming shortage of clinicians who provide diabetes care. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic led to health worker burnout, the nation faced a shortage of 2,700 diabetes specialists by 2025. 48,000 primary care physicians until 2034
It will be essential to support the remaining workforce in any way possible. Supply and device distributors have the knowledge, resources, and bandwidth to increase the workload of overburdened clinicians.
Distributors typically interact with patients between 10 and 15 times a year, beginning at the time of first diagnosis. Each of these touchpoints is an opportunity to provide real-time device training, offer training on self-monitoring techniques and the importance of adherence to therapy, and relay critical information back to healthcare providers.
Enlisting the help of a trusted, established entity to bridge the continuum of care and proactively close gaps in patient care will be critical, especially as value-based care arrangements continue to expand and accountability for holistic, coordinated care increases.
A call for more involvement from the distributor community
Distributors have a promising and exciting opportunity to play a new role in diabetes care. These companies sit at the crossroads of the clinical, payer and consumer environments, ideally positioned to build stronger connections between the three groups and support people as they navigate the complex healthcare system.
A number of distributors are already taking advantage of this opportunity, appointing credentialed clinicians on staff to inform their next steps and developing patient-friendly education programs to better balance the use of digital tools with the human aspect of the diabetes journey.
The key to making these efforts as effective as possible is to close the feedback loop between primary care providers, payers, pharmacies, device manufacturers, and specialists. This will require continued investment in data interoperability and care coordination workflows. Although this is not easy, the exchange of information is worth the effort and essential to creation better patient experiences and outcomes.
Increased involvement by supply and device distributors can go a long way toward supporting patients using diabetes technologies and other complex therapies and ensuring long-term adherence.
By expanding the training and support team to include supply and device distributors, patients will be able to better access the tools and knowledge they need to effectively manage their health.