Implementation of an Intensive Telehealth Intervention for Rural Patients with Clinic-Refractory Diabetes

J Gen Intern Med. 2022 Jan 3;1-9. doi: 10.1007/s11606-021-07281-8. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: Rural patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D) may experience poor glycemic control due to limited access to T2D specialty care and self-management support. Telehealth can facilitate delivery of comprehensive T2D care to rural patients, but implementation in clinical practice is challenging.

Objective: To examine the implementation of Advanced Comprehensive Diabetes Care (ACDC), an evidence-based, comprehensive telehealth intervention for clinic-refractory, uncontrolled T2D. ACDC leverages existing Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Home Telehealth (HT) infrastructure, making delivery practical in rural areas.

Design: Mixed-methods implementation study.

Participants: 230 patients with clinic-refractory, uncontrolled T2D.

Intervention: ACDC bundles telemonitoring, self-management support, and specialist-guided medication management, and is delivered over 6 months using existing VHA HT clinical staffing/equipment. Patients may continue in a maintenance protocol after the initial 6-month intervention period.

Main measures: Implementation was evaluated using the Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance (RE-AIM) framework. The primary effectiveness outcome was hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c).

Key results: From 2017 to 2020, ACDC was delivered to 230 patients across seven geographically diverse VHA sites; on average, patients were 59 years of age, 95% male, 80% white, and 14% Hispanic/Latinx. Patients completed an average of 10.1 of 12 scheduled encounters during the 6-month intervention period. Model-estimated mean baseline HbA1c was 9.56% and improved to 8.14% at 6 months (- 1.43%, 95% CI: - 1.64, - 1.21; P < .001). Benefits persisted at 12 (- 1.26%, 95% CI: - 1.48, - 1.05; P < .001) and 18 months (- 1.08%, 95% CI - 1.35, - 0.81; P < .001). Patients reported increased engagement in self-management and awareness of glycemic control, while clinicians and HT nurses reported a moderate workload increase. As of this submission, some sites have maintained delivery of ACDC for up to 4 years.

Conclusions: When strategically designed to leverage existing infrastructure, comprehensive telehealth interventions can be implemented successfully, even in rural areas. ACDC produced sustained improvements in glycemic control in a previously refractory population.

Keywords: diabetes mellitus, type 2; health services research; implementation science; rural health; telemedicine.