Objectives: To study the social and family characteristics of patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus with irregular versus continuous clinical follow-up and to study the medical outcomes of patients with these follow-up patterns.
Methods: An onset cohort of 61 children and adolescents with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and their parents were studied. Aspects of their social and family environment were assessed at study inception and examined in relation to frequency of follow-up early in the course of the illness. Follow-up was dichotomized so that patients with continuous follow-up were compared with patients with irregular follow-up, who were defined as those missing 1 full year of planned medical appointments during the second through fourth years after diagnosis. Patients with irregular and continuous follow-up were compared in terms of acute metabolic complications, glycemic control, and retinopathy status during a 10-year period.
Results: Compared with individuals with continuous follow-up, patients with irregular clinical visits were more likely to be from families of lower socioeconomic class levels, have a parental history of separation and divorce, and were members of families that reported being least openly expressive of positive emotions. Poor glycemic control in year 1 was associated with irregular follow-up in years 2 through 4. Patients with irregular follow-up continued to have worse glycemic control in years 2 through 4 than patients with continuous follow-up. However, in years 7 and 10 their glycemic control no longer differed from patients with continuous follow-up. More episodes of diabetic ketoacidosis occurred in the irregular follow-up group. Finally, retinopathy occurred more frequently among those in the irregular follow-up group.
Conclusion: Early irregular clinical follow-up should be considered a risk factor for complications of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.