Background: Collaboration between primary care physicians (PCPs) and endocrinologists should be the first step in improving care of patients with diabetes. However, the coordination of care between specialists and PCPs often does not work well. At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a collaborative model between PCPs and endocrinology was used in an effort to improve glycemic control for patients with diabetes.
Methods: In 1998 a project team was formed; the team members attempted to find ways to improve the care of patients with diabetes, specifically patients with poor glycemic control. The team proceeded through ten iterations of the model before reaching one accepted by all-one with clear responsibilities and referral criteria.
Results: Survey results indicated a high level of satisfaction with the collaborative model among patients and PCPs. Appropriate referrals to the diabetes improvement program--a 12-week outpatient program consisting of instruction and support in diabetes self-management coupled with adjustment of insulin and oral hypoglycemic medications-increased during the team effort, and a control chart indicated a change in the process that was significant and sustained. The patients enrolled in the program experienced a reduction of mean glycated hemoglobin levels from 9.2% at entry to 7.5% after 3 months (p < 0.05).
Discussion: An initial first step to improving care is to create an environment of trust and collaboration between the PCPs and specialists who assist in that care. After this collaboration has been established, many of the improvements identified in other studies can more easily be implemented.