Inpatient hyperglycemia, defined as a blood glucose greater than 140, is present in more than half of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) and approximately 30%-40% of patients in the non-ICU setting, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
Joshua D. Lenchus, DO, RPh, FACP, SFHM, a hospitalist and associate professor of clinical medicine and anesthesiology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, can attest to the growing problem. “Patients with diabetes are ubiquitous in our hospital,” he says. “Because I work in an urban, tertiary care, safety net teaching hospital, most of our cases are on the severe end of the acuity scale. Some arrive in full-blown diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) or hyperosmolar nonketotic hyperglycemia; others are admitted with profound fluid and electrolyte abnormalities from chronically uncontrolled diabetes.”
Caitlin Foxley, MD, FHM, an assistant professor of medicine and the lead hospitalist at Private Hospitalist Service at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, says most inpatients have at least one complication of diabetes—usually chronic kidney disease and/or circulatory complications.
“For us, patients of a lower socioeconomic status seem to be hospitalized more frequently with complications related to diabetes due to barriers to access of care,” she says. Barriers include difficulty obtaining supplies, particularly glucose strips and insulin, and finding transportation to appointments.
The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque is seeing more patients who are newly diagnosed with diabetes.
“Management wise, these inpatients are less complicated, but it’s alarming that we are seeing more of them,” says UNM hospitalist Kendall Rogers, MD, CPE, FACP, SFHM, a lead mentor in SHM’s glycemic control quality improvement program. “Overall inpatient management is becoming more complex: Inpatients are frequently on steroids, their nutritional intake varies, and kidney issues make glycemic control more challenging, while therapeutic options for outpatient therapies are escalating.”
Regardless of an inpatient diabetic’s status, hospitalists should play a vital role in their treatment. “Bread and butter diabetics—and even some pretty complex cases—should be owned by hospitalists,” says Dr. Rogers, who notes that more than 95% of diabetic patients at his 650-bed hospital are managed by hospitalists. “Every hospitalist should know how to treat simple to complex glycemic control in the inpatient setting.”
Kristen Kulasa, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine and director of inpatient glycemic control in the division of endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism at the University of California San Diego, agrees, especially if no one else is on hand to help treat diabetic patients.
“Many inpatient glycemic control efforts are spearheaded by hospitalists,” she says. “They are in the driver’s seat.”
Order Sets: What Works Best?
While there is consensus that hospitalists should play a primary role in treating inpatient diabetics, debate is ongoing regarding just how standardized order sets should be.
“Each patient is different and should be treated uniquely,” Dr. Lenchus says. “But standardized order sets are beneficial. They remind us of what should be ordered, reviewed, and addressed.”
For example, order sets that address an insulin correction factor should be designed to minimize the potential for hypoglycemic episodes by standardizing the amount of insulin a patient receives. Standard order sets for DKA could assist the physician and nursing staff in ensuring that the appropriate laboratory tests are accomplished within the prescribed time period.
At Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, most order sets are designed as a collaborative effort among endocrinologists, hospitalists, nurses, and pharmacists. Some organizations, including SHM, offer order set templates.
Guillermo Umpierrez, MD, CDE, FACE, FACP, professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and a member of the ADA board of directors, maintains that hospitalists should work with their information technology (IT) departments to set up appropriate insulin orders.