Written by: Jon Vredenburg, MBA, RD, CDE, CSSD, LD/N

The statistics regarding the prevalence of diabetes are overwhelming. More than 100 million Americans are now living with either diabetes or prediabetes. In order to give that number some context, the entire population of the United States is approximately 325 million. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes accounts for $237 billion in direct medical costs each year. Even after adjusting for inflation, the economic impact of diabetes has increased over 25% since 2012.

Diabetes education remains on the frontline of an epidemic that will eventually impact the lives of one out of every three Americans if recent trends continue. Diabetes Educators are trained to assist with behavior modification which can produce better clinical outcomes and improved health status. Diabetes is a complex condition that requires problem solving ability with regards to medication, nutrition and physical activity, as well as self-blood glucose monitoring. Diabetes education can be an important adjunct to any medical practice, especially since Medicare covers 10 hours of diabetes self-management training for patients within the first year of diagnosis, and two hours annually thereafter. Figures from the American Association of Diabetes Educators reveal that only 5% of persons with newly diagnosed diabetes actually use this benefit.

Because of the multi-faceted approach to diabetes self-care, an interdisciplinary care team setting is an essential component to helping slow down the epidemic and improve the lives of each individual touched by this disease. Many clinics and health care systems have also implemented Diabetes Prevention Programs within their practice, with specially trained lifestyle coaches from the community, which helps meet the growing demand for education while helping prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Participants in the program that achieve a 7% weight reduction and get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week can see their risk for diabetes reduced by 50%. Because these prevention programs are backed by evidence that they work, many insurance providers are offering them as a covered benefit in their health plans too.

Starting a diabetes prevention program in your practice can actually be accomplished with minimal staffing, if you are using the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approved curriculum. All that is needed is a trained lifestyle coach to lead the sessions, a program coordinator to oversee daily operations, and data preparer to collect data and send to the CDC. In smaller practices, one person may fulfill each of these roles too. Learn more about the structure of the program by visiting the CDC website.

A problem as multi-faceted as diabetes will continue to require creative management solutions led by health professionals and community leaders alike. Simplified access to healthier foods and safe areas for physical activity are the leading examples of community efforts to mitigate the spread of type 2 diabetes, while policies that can help consumers navigate the health care marketplace are examples of national efforts for management of the condition.