Healthcare News & Insights

Hospitals’ new role: Testing patients for diabetes

Diabetes is a common chronic condition that affects the health of many patients. And helping patients manage this illness can be critical to patient outcomes. In fact, facilities may have a unique opportunity to help patients who don’t even know they have the illness. 

GettyImages-78606056A new study shows just how integral a role hospitals have in helping patients with diabetes diagnose their conditions.

According to researchers from two universities, many patients who come to the hospital with hyperglycemia and no prior history of diabetes could end up with a new diabetes diagnosis at some point during their hospital stay.

That means hospitals may want to re-evaluate how they handle patients with high blood sugar.

Importance of testing patients

The researchers’ findings are described in an article from UPI, and the results were published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

Clinicians have the option of giving patients with hyperglycemia a glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) test during their stay in the hospital. These tests are regularly administered in the office and outpatient settings, but they aren’t used as often to evaluate patients’ high blood sugar in the inpatient environment.

That could be because hyperglycemia can be caused by several factors besides diabetes for hospital patients, including various illnesses, stress or new medications they’re taking after being admitted (e.g., steroids). Often the condition is attributed to these causes first.

Many patients with high blood sugar and no prior diagnosis of diabetes end up with poorer outcomes, including higher mortality rates. And their lengths of stay are twice as long as patients who have hyperglycemia with a known diagnosis of diabetes.

To see if there was a reliable way to prevent these problems, researchers wanted to see just how many people with elevated blood sugar ended up being diagnosed with diabetes at some point during their treatment. They examined the medical records of patients at a hospital in the Midwest who had hyperglycemia when admitted.

Out of all the patients who met these criteria in a two-year period, close to 60% of them received HbA1c tests. More than half of them had levels consistent with diabetes, and almost all patients in this category were diagnosed with the condition before being discharged. An additional 20% had HbA1c levels consistent with being prediabetic.

What this means for hospitals

Given the high percentage of patients who were only diagnosed with diabetes after receiving glycated hemoglobin tests in the hospital, it may be beneficial to make these tests more common for patients with hyperglycemia.

Study researchers suggest that hospitals make these tests part of their protocol for addressing patients’ high blood sugar, regardless of its suspected cause.

In fact, “early detection and intervention may reduce additional costs of care resulting from increased incidence of diabetes-related complications and readmissions,” as the researchers wrote in the study.

Hospitals could help these patients better deal with their diabetes before they’re discharged by giving them the education they need to better manage the condition on their own and pointing them to resources they can use for assistance once they’ve returned home. This could keep them from unnecessary readmissions and additional complications related to the illness.

So it may be time for your facility to adopt this strategy with hyperglycemic patients.

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