With an already long history of making patient education a priority, Sampson Regional Medical Center is expanding on its patient education services, now providing a new and improved — and potentially a soon-to-be nationally recognized — educational opportunity for local diabetes patients and their families.
Coordinator and fitness specialist Robin Palmer, nurse Brenda Avent, rehabilitation director/physical therapist Nancy Thagard, along with two of the hospital’s registered dietitians, have come together to create a new diabetes education program for the hospital, one grounded in standards set by the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
“Brenda has always done patient education, so now we’re just expanding on what we already offer,” said Palmer, explaining that the team desired to revamp the hospital’s diabetes education offerings because they realize just how much the information and knowledge shared in the classes could improve the lives of local citizens who are struggling with the disease. “There’s so much of diabetes that can be controlled with healthy eating, exercise, and living a healthy lifestyle.”
In the works since last summer, the new program, in a pilot phase, started this January.
“We wanted to start at the beginning of this year,” noted Avent, adding that the team had thought of starting the program sooner but decided to wait until after the holidays. “At the beginning of the year, people are making goals for themselves so it seemed like the right time.”
With one class already under their belts, the team is now working with their second class. Classes meet Tuesday and Thursday mornings every month at the hospital’s Center for Health + Wellness.
According to Plamer, patients in the program first meet with her and Avent for a one-on-one consultation. “We want to get to know them; we want them to feel comfortable.”
“We’re all community people,” noted Avent, “and we want patients to know that ‘I’ve got somewhere to turn.’”
Patients then take part in a two part series of classes in which the team covers all aspects of living with diabetes, everything from understanding the actual disease process and how to treat diabetes with food, exercise and medicine to monitoring high and low blood sugar and preventing the long-term risks of the disease including the loss of limbs, kidney failure, heart problems, and blindness.
“And we go into the psychological issues, helping them to try and get some strategies to help them in life,” Palmer pointed out.
“We also work with families because it’s not just a one person problem,” stressed Avent. “How we advise diabetics to live is really how the whole family should live so we try to teach the lifestyle change to the whole family.”
“Yes, we encourage patients to bring their families to the classes,” Palmer added.
Lastly, the team follows up with patients, just to check in and see how they are doing even months down the road.
“We spend a total of six to eight hours with a patient (in the consultation and classes) and we know it can be a large commitment for them,” acknowledged Avent, “but we have only a fraction of time to deal with it (diabetes).”
And dealing with it is something the team takes very seriously, aware of how quickly a diabetic’s health can take a turn for the worse if not closely monitored and properly managed.
“Brenda talks with them about monitoring blood sugar levels and taking their medications properly. Nancy addresses issues they may have with their feet because circulation can be a real problem for diabetics and sometimes it is something they can’t see or feel,” shared Palmer. “The dietitians cover the nutritional aspect and I talk with them abut exercise. We all come together with our areas of expertise.”
As experts in their fields, all of the team members understand the importance of following the standards set by the ADA.
“A task force of people from the ADA and the Association of Diabetic Educators created the standards, the national standards of diabetes self-management. It’s all about self-management,” explained Palmer. “We want our program to become an ADA recognized so our program has to be based on those standards.”
“We’re so pleased with the program,” added Avent. “They (those with ADA) are the ones doing the research. They set the gold standard and that’s what we want for our patients. We want to give people the best education possible and one that they know it truly legitimate and ADA-endorsed.”
In order to become a ADA recognized, the program has to operate in its pilot phase under the ADA guidance for six months so that the team can gather patient data, data that ADA requires before it will consider the program for accreditation.
“ADA will audit us to make sure the program follow the standards,” said Palmer as Avent added that the ADA wants “to monitor our activity before giving its stamp of approval.”
At present, the program, in its pilot phase, is free and accepts self-referrals. However, once it is accredited, participation in the program may require a doctor’s referral as well as payment.
“Once the program becomes recognized, it can become a billable service but we don’t want it to be cost prohibitive,” said Palmer.
“We want patients to see it as a health care costs savings,” pointed out Avent, explaining that by participating in the program diabetics and their families will be more knowledgeable of the disease, knowledge that can lead to fewer negative implications and can save on doctor’s visits and help prevent re-admissions to the hospital. “The more patients know the better.”
Although self-referrals are accepted now, the team would like to see people coming into the program with doctor referrals.
“We would like to have a doctor’s referral because it adds another dimension to patient treatment and we want to work with physicians on plans to improve the quality of life for patients. It’s also important for us to know what other problems a patient may have and what medicines they are taking. Doctors stress it (diabetes management) but we’re becoming part of that loop of care,” said Robin, adding that sometimes doctor referrals get patients to seek the help that they might not have otherwise pursued. “Doctor referrals can make all the difference in the world. If my doctor tells me I need to do something, I do it.”
Because the team believes the program will be most successful when everyone involved in a patient’s health is on the same page, they are working to spread the word about the program to physicians all throughout the community.
“We’re trying to get information out to all physicians. This is not just a Clinton thing; it’s for the whole county,” stressed Avent, mentioning the smaller clinics located in Harrells and in Garland. “We really want all health care providers in the county to know about it.”
Reaching people, even those in the farther, outlying areas of the community, is important to the team because they are well aware of how many in Sampson are struggling with diabetes.
“It’s very prevalent, really running rampant in our area. The statistics are just staggering, especially in rural areas,” noted Avent. “I’d go so far as to say that it affects most families in the county in some way.”
But the team is excited that the program is already having an impact, promising little by little to improve those local statistics, and most all, the lives the numbers represent.
Acknowledging that managing diabetes can be “a job,” Avent recalled a young woman who was newly diagnosed and participated in the first class in January.
“It was a shock to her and it can be frightening and depressing, but one of things that she said about the class is that it helped her realize, ‘I’m not by myself,’” she recalled. “By the end of the class, the look on her face was different. It was like, ‘I can do this. I’m in charge.’”
It’s patients like that who experience successes like that who make the team even more passionate about the program.
“I feel the positive changes in myself from living a healthy lifestyle so I want to be able to see other people have the same results, and you can see it even ten-fold with diabetics because their symptoms can be so improved,” said Palmer. “It’s knowing that you’re giving them the tools they need to improve their lives.”
“We’re all coming together and are so excited and passionate about it,” agreed Avent. “We want to see it really work.”
For more information about the hospital’s diabetes education program, call Robin Palmer or Brenda Avent at 910-596-5406 or 910-590-8744.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.