November is National Diabetes Month. Like other health observances throughout the year, it is intended to raise awareness about a disease that afflicts more than 116 million Americans who have diabetes or prediabetes and contributes more than $245 billion to national healthcare costs, according to the American Diabetes Association. Awareness, unfortunately, does not always inspire action, so the first week of November is also National Diabetes Education Week, dedicated to individuals on the front line of implementing patient engagement strategies for patients with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, as well as for those at risk of the disease.
Debunk the Myths and Impart the Facts
Chances are, when you ask people what they know about diabetes, they will say with great confidence that it comes from eating too much sugar. That’s just the first of four common myths cited by the Joslin Diabetes Center. Let’s look at each myth—and the facts that diabetes consumers need to combat these misconceptions—plus one additional fact that you need to share.
- Myth: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar. Fact: A lack of insulin causes diabetes. In type 1 diabetics, the pancreas stops making insulin, a hormone that helps the body use glucose. In type 2 diabetics, the pancreas may produce insulin, but it is not enough or the body doesn’t use it efficiently—known as insulin resistance. The Joslin Diabetes Center notes that while type 2 diabetes used to be more common in older adults who are overweight or have a family history of diabetes, unhealthy lifestyles have led to greater numbers of children and young adults with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
- Myth: Taking insulin is a sign of failure. Fact: Insulin is the only treatment available to type 1 diabetics. This myth is most likely perpetuated by consumers with type 2 diabetes. Unlike those with type 1 diabetes, individuals with type 2 diabetes have options for managing their disease. Some are able to control their diabetes—or avoid it if they are pre-diabetic—through a combination of diet, exercise or oral medications. Over time, diabetes can change, as can the effectiveness of a treatment plan, so insulin may be added to help manage the disease and reduce the risk of complications from diabetes or a number of other chronic ailments that are companions of poorly managed diabetes including high blood pressure.
- Myth: You can’t enjoy an active lifestyle with diabetes. Fact: Physical activity has actually proven to help lower blood glucose levels. The key here for educational materials is emphasizing that consumers with diabetes just need to talk with their medical provider and understand how to monitor blood sugar levels to prevent low blood sugars induced by physical activity. Otherwise, being active actually helps those with diabetes live healthier. This is especially true for those with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance.
- Myth: Injecting insulin is painful. Fact: Good injection techniques can lead to a virtually painless experience. It takes some practice, but with the fine needles available and the right techniques, injections should cause very little discomfort. What’s more, technology like an insulin pump can eliminate the need for daily injections, instead allowing diabetes consumers to simply insert a new pump needle every two-four days.
- Fact: Type 2 diabetes is preventable. While some patients may believe that diabetes is inevitable because of a family history, the truth is type 2 diabetes can be avoided. The Diabetes Prevention Program research study proved that consumers at risk of type 2 diabetes could prevent or delay onset of diabetes by simply losing weight and participating in moderate exercise five days a week. The National Diabetes Education Program used the study results to develop its own program called the Small Steps. Big Rewards. Game Plan.
By debunking the myths and offering a simple formula for diabetes prevention, healthcare organizations have a good start towards creating a patient engagement strategy that can positively impact consumers with diabetes.
The Diagnosis Does Not Define the Consumer with Diabetes
Of course, it is important to remember the old adage, “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” One of the biggest challenges healthcare organizations face goes beyond putting key facts in their educational materials. As we mentioned in a recent blog, our psychographic segmentation has revealed that the patient types most common among diabetics are Self Achievers and Willful Endurers—and while their numbers are significantly lower, some patients with diabetes or prediabetes may be Priority Jugglers, Direction Takers or Balance Seekers.
Each segment has specific motivations, attitudes towards health and even communication preferences so a uniform approach based on a diagnosis alone will only connect with a fraction of the consumers you want to reach. Hospitals, family physicians, insurers and others need to develop patient engagement strategies that deliver those materials via the right channels, with the right messaging, to connect with these very different diabetes consumers.
The Commonwealth Fund recently published an article detailing work c2b solutions has been engaged in with TriHealth, a major health system in Cincinnati, training its health coaches in leveraging psychographic insights to improve the care of patients with diabetes. The results have been extremely positive and the parties are looking at program expansion.
Are you having success with any particular segment yourself? We’d love to hear about it.