Don't ignore diabetes educators

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Nearly every day, the staff of Bright Plaza Pharmacy and HME in Whittier, Calif., gets face time with one of their top referral sources--the team of diabetes educators who work in the physicians' offices upstairs.
"It's a huge win-win for both of us," said Micki Spencer, who oversees the diabetes education program for Bright Medical Associates. "We're down there (at the HME) almost every single day with a patient or to ask a question."
For an HME that carries diabetic supplies, which patients must replenish regularly, a referral relationship like this is a match made in heaven, said industry consultant Jack Evans, president of Global Media Marketing in Malibu, Calif.
Roy Hanna, manager of Bright Plaza Pharmacy and HME, estimates that 50% of the patients who attend Spencer's classes come directly to his store for their diabetes supplies.
"We sell them their meters, strips, lab sets, sugar-free candy, socks, creams, you name it," he said.
The rapid rise of diabetes educators mirrors the exponential growth in the prevalence of the disease. A staggering 20.8 million Americans have diabetes and an estimated 2,200 patients are being diagnosed each day. Diabetes educators can be found in physicians' practices like Spencer's, or in hospital, clinic or home health agency settings. They're often registered nurses or dieticians certified in diabetes education who work directly with clients to help them better manage their disease.
Spencer and her team of diabetes educators offer free classes for diabetes patients that cover dietary guidelines, blood glucose monitoring, exercise recommendations and the wide variety of diabetic products available. They also offer individual counseling to patients who need it.
Bright Plaza and Spencer work together to ensure that patients with diabetes are fully educated about their disease and the products available to help them manage it. Simply offering diabetes products isn't enough to ensure referrals from diabetes educators, says Marcia Elliott, a certified diabetes educator with Community Health Professionals in Van Wert, Ohio.
"I'm drowned with sales calls from HME suppliers," said Elliott, who also serves as chairperson of the Home Health Care Specialty Practice Group for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. "But instead of just wanting a sale from us, I wish they would utilize the opportunity to educate their patient. Then it can be a huge referral source back and forth."
Elliott and Spencer agree that the success of their patient counseling depends on having a reliable HME supplier--one with a good understanding of the disease and a wide variety of diabetic products--to whom they can send their patients. And the suppliers they turn to are usually local companies, not mail-order diabetic supply companies.
"Older patients in particular want to talk to someone in person and get very confused by phone prompts," said Spencer. "It makes such a difference to have a local HME company."