UAB Medicine News


Diabetes Education Program Helps Patients Make Diet, Lifestyle Changes

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It is well established that diet is the most important factor in any diabetes treatment plan. For many patients with diabetes who plan to alter, enhance, or completely change their eating habits, knowing that they need to make major lifestyle changes is not the same thing as knowing how to do it. That’s where UAB Medicine’s Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSMES) program comes in.

Conducted by UAB Diabetes and Nutrition Education Services at The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital, the program is accredited by the American Diabetes Association and  offers classes in basic nutrition and diabetes management. Registered dietitians and certified diabetes educators (CDEs) conduct the classes, which are covered by most insurance plans and ideal for patients referred by their primary care doctor or endocrinologist.

Most of the patients who attended DSMES classes from March 2018 to March 2019 saw at least some success in making lifestyle changes to manage their diabetes, according to Diabetes and Nutrition Education Services supervisor Barbara Roberts, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE.

“For 2019, we saw over 200 patients, and about 93% met at least one of the goals they set, whether that was physical activity, smoking cessation, blood sugar levels, or diet,” Roberts says. “Of those 200 people, 75% met their nutrition goal. That’s a very good number, and we know it leads to better outcomes in diabetes management. Data show that people with diabetes who attend an education program such as DSMES have better glucose and A1c numbers, and they are less likely to have any of the complications of diabetes such as amputations, blindness, or kidney failure.”

Wide Range of Help

The DSMES program is a comprehensive educational resource, offering essential instruction about diet, nutrition, medication, and monitoring glucose levels, as well as guidance on lifestyle changes that can affect how patients manage their condition. Participants also learn how to cope with changes in living arrangements, new doctors or insurance plans, depression, financial problems, and being diagnosed with other medical conditions.

The classes are structured for convenience and ease of access. The main course (two group classes that last 2-3 hours each) requires only two days of attendance. A one-day, seven-hour class with a lunch break also is available. There is an individual instruction class for people who have health issues or complications that make it difficult to sit in a classroom.

The DSMES program still has one hurdle to overcome, however, and that’s participation.

“Fewer than 50% of people who have this education course available to them through their insurance plan take advantage of the opportunity,” Roberts says. “With the current high rate of diabetes in our state, we should be seeing a lot more patients each month. Our no-show rate is a problem as well. It may be that they don’t learn about DSMES from providers or aren’t strongly encouraged to attend, even if they are made aware of the classes.”

Roberts urges all providers to inform their patients with diabetes about this resource. “Research shows that when physicians refer patients to a diabetes education clinic, they are more likely to attend,” Roberts says. “We want to get the message out to providers that DSMES is a valuable benefit.”

To participate or learn more about the Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support program, please call 205-801-8171.

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