Three New Ways One Integrated Health Organization is Fighting Diabetes

April 9, 2018
Kevin Ronneberg, MD
Kevin Ronneberg, MD

Kevin Ronneberg, MD, is vice president and associate medical director, Health Initiatives, at HealthPartners.

HealthPartners’ vice president and associate medical director shares how the integrated organization is looking beyond traditional approaches to curb diabetes.

More than 100 million U.S. adults are now living with diabetes or prediabetes, according to a recent report by the CDC. While the report indicates some progress in fighting diabetes, this is still a staggering figure, and it’s our job as healthcare executives to address it.

But how should we? Is more research needed? Better management? More preventive measures?

At HealthPartners, our answer has been all of the above. I’m sure many of you would agree.

As an integrated organization, we’re leveraging our care delivery, healthcare financing and research institute together to fuel change. There’s no one silver bullet. But, here are a few of the ways we are seeing progress.  

1. Advancing vital research

Just last year, we were part of a team that helped bring the first version of an artificial pancreas to market. This device is a closed-loop system that automatically delivers insulin to people with type 1 diabetes based on their blood sugar levels. The International Diabetes Center (IDC), which is part of HealthPartners Institute, was one of 10 sites in the world to conduct critical research on the use of this technology.

This type of research is happening all around the country, and is vital to helping people with diabetes live healthier, more productive lives. Further, we know that proper management can significantly reduce cost of care.

2. A more personalized approach

We’re also exploring new ways to help members and patients with diabetes achieve better outcomes. This work is going beyond a traditional focus on quality measures and identifying where else we can have an impact on quality of life.

For example, we know there is a strong relationship between dental health and diabetes. Among our members with diabetes, the rate of well controlled blood sugars is 10% higher for those who have had a dental visit compared to those with no dental visit.

Just this month, we launched a personalized outreach campaign to members with diabetes who have both medical and dental coverage with us. We’re letting them know more about the relationship between healthy teeth and gums and diabetes, and about their specific dental benefits.  

3. Reframing how we think about prevention

In our commercial health plan members, more than 20% who are prediabetic are diagnosed with diabetes in the following three years. That’s why we’re directly addressing health outside our clinic walls.

We have convened communities in a multisector collaboration at four levels: healthy environment, outreach, programs, and clinics. An example of this approach is PowerUp, a community-wide initiative with a long-term strategy to “make it easy, fun, and popular to eat better and move more.”

Facets of the program include robust school wellness policies; healthier food shelves, cafeterias and concessions, and open gyms. A key program is the School Challenge, inspiring kids to eat fruits and vegetables. Now going into its seventh year, the classroom-based program includes more than 60 schools and reaches more than 22,000 students annually.

What’s ahead?

As the CDC acknowledged, we’ve made progress. We’re improving how we address people who have developed risk factors and have developed disease. We need to continue to do that, while at the same time, find ways of providing treatments and interventions to help those with diabetes live healthier lives.

In the long run the real win is primary prevention. What can we do to help people prevent developing risk factors and ultimately diabetes? It’s not easy, but it’s the long view and where we will find the best outcomes and affordability.  

Kevin Ronneberg, MD, is a Managed Healthcare Executive editorial advisor and vice president and associate medical director, Health Initiatives, at HealthPartners.