The Diabetic Patient: How Medical Assistants Can Help


Article Categories: Diabetes & Diseases and Conditions

One of the most frequent chronic diseases that Medical Assistants encounter is type 2 diabetes. How common is diabetes?



• Almost 30 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, including over 8 million who are unaware that they have the disease

• One in ten adults over the age of 20 has diabetes. By the time they reach 65 years, one in four people are diagnosed

• Pre-diabetes, determined by an elevated A1C level, is present in 35% of people over age 20 and 50% of those over 65

Diabetes is expensive; the American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates an annual cost of $245 billion, about $1 of every $8 spent on healthcare. A patient with diabetes will spend more than $85,000 on medication, treatments, and complications.

Patients with diabetes must be actively involved in self-management. As key healthcare team members, Medical Assistants can provide care, education, and support for the patients, as well as assist the busy Primary Care Physicians:

• Initial check-in with vital signs and weight
• Determine if there are any new concerns or questions
• Obtain current or recent lab results for PCP review during patient visit
• Perform an A1C test, if indicated
• Do a foot assessment
• Ask how patient’s self-management is going, and reinforce learning points as needed
• Offer resources, such as smoking cessation classes or ADA website patient instruction
• Enter data or documentation into patient’s chart

Many of the tasks listed above are considered routine MA functions. But increasingly, medical practices are recognizing that Medical Assistants have skills that can boost office productivity, as well as patient satisfaction:

A 2013 study in San Francisco showed that Medical Assistants could be effective in being health coaches for patients with uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.

An article in Clinical Diabetes (July, 2013) encourages Primary Care Physicians to utilize staff, including Medical Assistants, to close the education gap for the growing number of diabetic patients, and create better outcomes.

Need a real-life example of how important Medical Assistants can be?

St. Peter Family Practice in Olympia, WA, established a program in 2008 that replaces the traditional model of PCP-only interactions with active MA relationships with patients. Medical Assistants stepped beyond the role of maintaining a smooth office, into one of working with patients in proactive ways:

1. Patient visits are planned, so the MA can build a better relationship and prepare the patient for the PCP. Appointment times are better utilized.

2. Medical Assistants organize and participate in mini-workshops for diabetic patients. During the sessions, the PCP can educate and MA can assist, so patients become more acquainted with the MA staff.

3. After an appointment, the MA phones to check in with the patient. Since about 50% of patients don’t fully understand their doctors’ instructions, the MA can follow-up.

4. With active MA participation, the percentage of documented progress of patients who followed diabetes self-management goals rose from 10% to 76%.

If your medical office is challenged by the demands of caring for diabetic patients, consider expanding the role of Medical Assistants to do more than routine activities. Everyone benefits: the patients, the PCPs, and most of all, YOU, as you expand your skills and help people stay healthy.

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