Initiatives targeting hypoglycemia and insulin pen wastage could lead to dramatic cost savings in small community hospitals, new data suggest.
The two projects are part of a dedicated inpatient glucose management service led by Mihail (“Misha”) Zilbermint, MD, one of the few full-time endocrine hospitalists in the United States and one of even fewer who work at a small community hospital.
In 2019, Dr. Zilbermint and colleagues reported that their inpatient glucose management program resulted in a 27% reduction in length of stay and a 10.7% lower 30-day readmission rate. The projected cost savings for the period January 2016 to May 2017 was $953,578.
Dr. Zilbermint’s team has written two new articles that document cost savings for specific elements of the program; namely, a set of hospital-wide hypoglycemia prevention measures, and an initiative that reduced duplicate inpatient insulin pen dispensing.
About 1 in 4 people in U.S. hospitals have diabetes or hyperglycemia. Large academic hospitals have endocrine divisions and training programs, but 85% of people receive care at small community hospitals.
“There are management guidelines, but they’re not always followed … That’s why I’ve been advocating for endocrine hospitalists to be deployed nationally,” Dr. Zilbermint said. He is chief and director of endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism at Johns Hopkins Community Physicians at Suburban Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland.
Asked to comment on behalf of the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM), Greg Maynard, MD, program lead for SHM’s Electronic Quality Improvement Programs, said that Suburban’s overall program goals align with those of the SHM.
“Dedicated inpatient glycemic control teams are very important and desirable to improve the quality and safety of care for inpatients with hyperglycemia and diabetes,” he said.
Regarding specific initiatives, such as those aimed at reducing hypoglycemia and insulin pen wastage, Dr. Maynard said, “All of these are feasible in a wide variety of institutions. The main barrier is getting the institutional support for people to work on these interventions. This series of studies can help spread the word about the positive return on investment.”
Another barrier – the current lack of publicly reported measures or pay-for-performance programs for hypoglycemia prevention and glycemic control – may soon change, added Dr. Maynard, who is also chief quality officer at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center.
“The National Quality Forum has endorsed new measures, and the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network is working on ways to augment those measures and embed them into their infrastructure,” he said.
Although SHM doesn’t specifically endorse full-time glycemic control hospitalists over endocrinology-trained glycemic control experts, “certainly hospitalists who accrue added training are very well positioned to be an important part of these interdisciplinary teams,” Dr. Maynard said.
‘The nurses were so afraid of hypoglycemia’
Tackling hypoglycemia was Dr. Zilbermint’s first priority when he started the glycemic management program at Suburban in late 2015.
“One of the most common complaints from the nurses was that a lot of their patients had hypoglycemia, especially in the ICU, when patients were placed on insulin infusion protocols … Every time, the nurse would have to call the attending and ask what to do,” he explains.
In addition, Dr. Zilbermint says, there was no standard for treating hypoglycemia. A nurse in one unit would give two cups of juice, another a 50% dextrose infusion, or another, milk. Even more concerning, “the nurses were so afraid of hypoglycemia they would reflexively discontinue all insulin, including basal.”
So one of the new initiatives, led by Carter Shelton, MSHCM, an administrative fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, was to implement a set of hospital-wide hypoglycemia prevention measures, as described in an article published online April 21 in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.