Using Telehealth for Diabetes Care
Diabetes is a condition that affects more than 30 million people in the U.S., nearly 10 percent of the entire population. It is also the 7th leading cause of death and shows no signs of slowing down. Treatment for diabetes has come a long way from the days when doctors would prescribe severe calorie-restricted diets. Now significant strides have been made in its treatment, and most people diagnosed with diabetes can lead normal lives.
A large part of successfully treating diabetes is through management and continuous monitoring. Offering services through telehealth gives medical practices the ability to provide their diabetic patients with quality care on-demand. A study published by the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology states that “diabetes is well suited for being treated with TM (telehealth).” Moreover, the disease has better outcomes when monitoring occurs. This is primarily because diabetes is a chronic condition and patients need to be in regular contact with their healthcare providers.
Real-Time Diabetes Care
Practices are taking advantage of telehealth to improve the treatment of diabetes in different ways. One is to deliver real-time care. Many issues that arise with diabetes require consultation with a physician. But not all diabetes patients require in-person visits. Telehealth allows you to quickly connect with your patient face-to-face and observe his/her symptoms. Real-time care can be provided to the patient in the form of prescribing medication or giving instructions to be followed.
“With telehealth, it’s like a normal doctor’s appointment but using technology to connect with the patient. You need to think of telehealth as an extension of the brick and mortar facility and the normal exam room,” explains Sean Brindley, product development manager for Kareo Telehealth. Brindley advises you to follow the same practices that you would if the patient was in front of you. "You are still providing high-quality medical care," he says, "just not necessarily in the office."
Better Outcomes With Telehealth
Telehealth can also benefit diabetes patients by helping them lower their blood glucose levels. Studies have shown that in cases where care was provided through a telehealth visit, there was improved glycemic control (as evidenced by lower A1C results) in people with type 2 and gestational diabetes.
“After a diabetic patient has undergone an A1C test, either for diagnosis or as part of management, the physician can consult with the patient over a video visit,” Brindley says. “They can review the lab results together and discuss changes in glucose levels, and if any alterations are needed to the patient's treatment plan or lifestyle.” This process reinforces the concept of shared decision making. Studies and experts increasingly agree that an ideal model of care is one where both parties, the patient and physician, take part in reaching a consensus on the best treatment option.
A large study, reported in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association, analyzed the outcomes of two groups of 1665 Medicare diabetic patients. One group used telehealth to deliver care and the other group treated patients through in-office visits. At the one year follow-up mark, the study found that the patients who were managed with telehealth showed improved glycemic control, blood pressure levels, and total and LDL cholesterol levels compared to patients who received care the traditional way.
Best Practices When Using Telehealth for Diabetes
Deciding to incorporate telehealth into your practice can be a significantly positive step in the right direction. However, there are some considerations and best practices for choosing the right telehealth platform and continuing to use it effectively and safely for the benefit of your patients.
- Set Parameters. As a physician, you must set limits on the extent to which telehealth will be used in the delivery of care. Diabetic emergencies like severe hypoglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis should be excluded from treatment/management with telehealth. “Telehealth appointments should not be used for cases that are critical or require immediate attention. Telehealth is not ideal for anything that you would need to lay hands on a patient,” says Lauren Cranford, Kareo Telehealth Marketing Manager. “However, the final determination on the need for an in-office visit is reliant on the physician’s discretion.”
- Make a Patient Education Plan. After committing to a telehealth software and strategy, it’s important to figure out how you’ll get your patients familiar with the concept. The success of using telehealth to manage diabetic patients largely depends on how comfortable and well versed the patients are with using it.
“Patients need to know what they can and can’t do via telehealth, and how," says Cranford. "For example, every Kareo telehealth practice has a dedicated web page that can be tied to the practice's website, which provides more information to patients interested in scheduling a telehealth visit. The page informs patients about the ideal use cases for telehealth and tips and tricks to make the visit successful. We also send our practices email content with specific information around video visits that can be used as patient education pieces.”
- Invest in Staff Training. It is very likely (and even advisable) that the telehealth platform will not be operated solely by you, the physician. As such, medical practice staff such as nurses should be extensively trained to use it too. Nurses can be responsible for monitoring diabetes patients virtually, including making sure patients take their blood glucose and perform their blood pressure readings. Nurses can also adjust patients’ medication dosages when necessary.
Join us for our upcoming telehealth webinar, 5 Reasons Why You Should Start Telehealth in 2019 on July 17. Visit our website here to sign up for the webinar.
For additional information about Kareo’s approach to providing telehealth services, sign up for an informative demo below. Or, if you're ready to get started with telehealth at your practice, give Kareo a call at (888) 775-2736 and we'll get you set up!