Adding to Successful Efforts to Reduce Diabetes in the Lowcountry

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Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in South Carolina, a top 10 state for the disease with more than half a million adult sufferers. Diabetes increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, and even death.

And it is largely preventable. A majority of adults with diabetes are overweight or obese, have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. About 38% are physically inactive, according to the CDC. It affects minorities, low-income, and low-education individuals at significantly higher rates. Black Americans are twice as likely to die from diabetes as white Americans.

Many Efforts to Stem Diabetes

In South Carolina, there are numerous efforts to prevent and improve the treatment of diabetes and they have had some success. From 2011 to 2017 the rate of newly diagnosed cases dropped 20%. That has only inspired more efforts to reduce this scourge.

In October, MUSC held a diabetes symposium for primary health care professionals. Diabetes Treatment Centers at Roper and St. Francis hospitals provide self-management education to diabetes patients. Earlier this year, Blue Cross Blue Shield unveiled its Diabetes Free SC, an early-intervention initiative to reduce the incidence and prevalence of diabetes and its complications in South Carolina.

Walgreens’ Community-Based Specialty Services

Such initiatives are the natural province of the institutions involved. An insurer that can improve the health of its customers reduces its payouts and improves its profits. When an institution works to reduce its revenue by improving the health of its customers, that is particularly noteworthy. That is the case with Walgreens’ community-based specialty locations.

Walgreens operates 98 retail outlets across South Carolina. At 200 Rutledge Avenue in Charleston, it operates a community-based specialty location that focuses on chronic disease and conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Unlike an ordinary retail location, the specialty location allows pharmacist Virginia Metcalf to develop relationships with her patients and spend the time necessary to educate them about their conditions and disease management, advocate for them within the healthcare system and direct them to financial support programs.

One Patient at a Time

“We can focus on one high-risk patient at a time. We know their names and their whole profile. We know all their medications, not just those for diabetes, so we can prevent drug interactions and encourage adherence on their entire medication regimen,” Metcalf said.  Metcalf spends a lot of time educating patients about a continuous glucose monitoring system that replaces finger sticks with a monitor worn under the skin that sends information to an app continuously. She discusses at length with patients all their prescriptions, even those not filled at Walgreens, and demonstrates insulin self-injections, injection site cleaning, and safe needle disposal. The specialty location even contains a training room where patients can practice what they learn.

“Our first focus here is patient care, which is why I chose this profession,” Metcalf said.

The specialty location’s very first customer was overweight, sedentary, a 61-year-old man with blood sugar levels double the normal reading. He was outfitted with the glucose monitoring system and taught how to use it. The constant health status reminders inspired him to begin eating better and walking daily. Within a year, he has dropped 50 pounds and brought his glucose readings under control with decreasing amounts of insulin. With improved health, he no longer requires cholesterol or blood pressure medicine. Customer #1 has been an unqualified success.

Walgreens participates in the Lowcountry Graduate Center’s Healthcare Management and Community Wellness Advisory Board, which focuses its efforts on helping to create a healthy and productive workforce that empowers economic development in the Lowcountry.


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