Caring for persons with diabetes is expensive, and this burden is increasing. Little is known about service use, behaviors, and self-care of older individuals with diabetes who live in underserved communities. Information about self-care, informal care, and service utilization in urban (largely Latino, n = 695) and rural (mostly white, n = 819) Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes living in federally designated medically underserved areas was collected using computer-aided telephone interviews as part of the baseline assessment in the Informatics and Diabetes Education and Telemedicine (IDEATel) Project. Where items were comparable, service use was compared with that of a nationally representative group of Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes, using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Compared to nationally representative groups, the underserved groups reported worse general health but similar health care service use, with the exception of home care. However, compared to the underserved rural group, the underserved, largely minority urban group, reported worse general health (P < 0.0001); more inpatient nights (P = 0.003), emergency room visits (P < 0.001), and home health care (P < 0.001); spent more time on self-care; and had more difficulty with housework, meal preparation, and personal care. Differences in service use between urban and rural groups within the underserved group substantially exceeded differences between the underserved and nationally representative groups. These findings address a gap in knowledge about older, ethnically diverse individuals with diabetes living in medically underserved areas. This profile of disparate service use and health care practices among urban minority and rural majority underserved adults with diabetes can assist in the planning of future interventions.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00271739.