Background: The prevalence of diabetes mellitus and its complications is higher among First Nations people and people with low socio-economic status (SES). Previous studies in Alberta have shown that provision of care through Primary Care Networks (PCNs) is associated with better quality of care and better outcomes for people with diabetes, possibly because of greater utilization of chronic disease management programs. However, it is unknown whether First Nations individuals and those in lower SES groups experience these benefits.
Methods: We used administrative and laboratory data for a population-based cohort analysis of Alberta residents under 65 years of age with diabetes. The primary outcome, assessed over a 1-year period, was admission to hospital or emergency department visit for a diabetes-specific ambulatory care sensitive condition (ACSC). Secondary outcomes were 2 quality-of-care indicators (likelihood of measurement of glycated hemoglobin [HbA1c] and or retinal screening) and 2 measures of health care utilization (visits to specialist and primary care physicians). We used negative binomial regression to determine the association between care within a PCN and hospital admission or emergency department visit for diabetes-specific ACSCs. We also assessed outcomes in 3 populations of interest (individuals receiving a health care subsidy [household income less than $39 250 and not eligible for Income Support], those receiving Income Support, and First Nations individuals) relative to the remainder of the population, controlling for whether care was provided in a PCN and adjusting for several baseline characteristics.
Results: We identified a total of 106 653 patients with diabetes eligible for our study, of whom 43 327 (41%) received care in a PCN. Receiving care through a PCN was associated with lower rates of ACSC-related hospital admission or emergency department visits for all groups of interest, which suggests that PCNs had similar effects across each group. However, regardless of where care was provided, First Nations and low-SES patients had more than twice the adjusted rates of hospital admission or emergency department visits for diabetes-specific ACSCs than the general population and were less likely to receive guideline-recommended care, including measurement of HbA1c and retinal screening.
Interpretation: Care in a PCN was associated with lower risks of hospital admission or emergency department visits for diabetes-specific ACSCs, even within vulnerable groups such as First Nations people and those of low SES. However, differences in outcomes and quality-of-care indicators persisted for First Nations individuals and those of low SES, relative to the general population, irrespective of where care was provided.