For Your Benefit

Digital Resources Help Balance Diabetes Management

Diabetes is a chronic problem, and online solutions paired with other workplace strategies can have a positive and encouraging impact.

Deb Dye wanted to make a major lifestyle change last year and lose some weight. A continuing lecturer at Purdue University, Dye had been prediabetic for several years. She had a family history of diabetes, and she’d always thought it was just a matter of time before she was a diabetic, too.

Diabetes in Workplace: office donuts

The workplace can play an important role in diabetes management.

She heard about a Type 2 diabetes reversal trial at work and got an appointment with Dr. Sarah Hallberg. It was at this appointment that the doctor officially diagnosed her with Type 2 diabetes.

It didn’t help that at her previous job, she was stressed and had a lot of access to sugary foods. People would use any excuse to bring in cake, doughnuts and new recipes.  “We’d celebrate anything,” said Dye, “We’d celebrate, ‘The sun’s out today!’ ” Her workplace environment made it difficult to make a diet change.

Dye isn’t alone. Some 29 million adults in the United States have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is a common and costly chronic disease in the U.S. More than 20 percent of health care spending is for patients diagnosed with diabetes.

The workplace can play an important role in diabetes management, said Dr. Jeremy Nobel, medical director at the Northeast Business Group on Health.

Workplaces have historically relied on weight control programs and screening for diabetes management. “Those have some value, but they’re not what they could be,” said Nobel. He suggested a more personalized approach to weight control. Digital solutions are one way to make this individualized approach easier.

One company currently providing a personalized solution on the market is Virta Health, an online medical clinic that focuses on reversing Type 2 diabetics.

Jeremy Nobel headshot

Dr. Jeremy Nobel, medical director at the Northeast Business Group on Health

For example, Virta provides patients with tools like weight scale, blood sugar and blood lipid meters, and blood pressure monitors. Clinical experts with the telemedicine company know what’s going on from afar in the patient’s body on a daily basis. Health coaches and patients can also interact through texting, phone calls or video chats throughout the day.

“It’s a rare employer who doesn’t mention diabetes as one of the top three illnesses that keeps them up at night,” said Mike Payne, Virta’s head of commercial and policy.

This is serious, considering the medical costs of a diabetic are about 2.5 times higher than that of a nondiabetic, and that diabetes is associated with lower productivity and higher workplace safety incidences.

Using a combination of telemedicine and proper clinical science can help with diabetes reversal, prevention and management, Payne said. Virta tested both an in-person clinic and online clinic and found the online version to be equally if not more effective.

“I think what’s going on here is we’re fitting the treatment to the disease,” said Payne. “Diabetes is a disease of choices, and they’re choices that are made on an hour-by-hour basis. With telemedicine we can put clinical expertise in the patient’s pocket to be available whenever the patient is making those choices about food or physical activity or stress.”

One of Virta’s employer clients is Purdue University, where Dye was accepted into the diabetes reversal study.

She went through the onboarding process and officially started the virtual program in February 2016. It appealed to her because she didn’t have time to attend meetings or group events and because her teaching schedule was varied. She also enjoyed the informational videos available on the app, which educates users on diet-related topics such as what you need to eat and what kind of fats are important to your diet.

Having a virtual coach is valuable to her, too. While attending a business conference in San Diego, she’d send pictures of the food she was eating to her coach. “She’d help me navigate through some of the challenges of being not-at-home,” said Dye.

Telemedicine is helpful but not a panacea, said Nobel. Other workplace strategies include providing healthy food choices and walking groups at lunch. Screening is helpful, but the biggest challenge is urging employees to get screened through a concerted, planned communication strategy.

“Many people don’t want to get screened because they don’t want to get bad news,” he said. “But just let them know that if they have it, the best thing is to know it so that they can take steps to reverse it or treat it.”

Equally important is the recognition of the emotional burden of weight control, he added. There’s emotional baggage like guilt, shame and isolation that can be associated with any chronic disease.

“The best treatment programs are the ones that appreciate that complexity,” said Nobel.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editorComment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.


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