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The Mexican Connection
A Special Report 

 
  • People are eating themselves to death and our healthcare systems and governments are failing to stop it
  • Obesity and type-2 diabetes (diabesity) kills thousands unnecessarily, and threatens the stability of healthcare systems around the world
  • In the UK there is mounting frustration with the diabetes establishment’s failure to make inroads into the prevention and management of diabesity
  • Mexico is re-engineering the way primary care delivers its services in order to prevent and reduce the burden of diabesity
  • There are lessons from Mexico for healthcare systems challenged by the diabesity epidemic
 

Breaking the cycle of ineffective diabesity services
 
People are eating themselves to death, and our healthcare systems are failing to stop it. Not more so than in Mexico, where 70% of the population is overweight and 33% obese; both risk factors of type-2 diabetes (T2DM), which kills 70,000 Mexicans each year.
 
The situation is not that different in the UK, which has the highest levels of obesity in Western Europe: 64% of adults in the UK are either overweight or obese, and the incidence rates of diabetes have more than trebled over the past 30 years. Each year, in the UK diabetes kills 22,000 people unnecessarily, and leads to 7,000 avoidable lower limb amputations.
 
The two countries differ however in their respective responses to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes (diabesity), which is the subject of this Commentary. While the UK’s diabetes establishment appears to be locked into a cycle of ineffectiveness, the Fundación Carlos Slim (FCS), is re-engineering the way Mexico’s primary healthcare system delivers its services in order to prevent and reduce the vast and escalating burden of diabesity. The FCS’s endeavours have important lessons for the UK, and indeed other countries battling with a similar epidemic.  
Diabesity a global challenge
Diabesity is no longer a disease of rich countries; it is increasing everywhere. An estimated 422m adults were living with diabetes in 2014, compared to 108m in 1980. The global prevalence (age-standardized) of diabetes has nearly doubled since 1980, rising from 4.7% to 8.5% in the adult population. This reflects an increase in associated risk factors such as being overweight or obese. Uncontrolled diabesity has devastating consequences for health and wellbeing, and it also impacts harshly on the finances of individuals and their families, and the economies of nations.


Mounting frustration with the UK’s diabetes establishment

Although there is consensus about what needs to be done to prevent and enhance the management of obesity and T2DM, and although each year NHS England spends £10.3bn on diabetes care, and £4bn to treat obesity, the prevalence rates of the conditions continue to rise, and the UK’s diabetes establishment seem unable to do anything about it.
 
This ineffectiveness has caused mounting frustration with the diabetes establishment on the part of the UK government’s National Audit Office (NAO) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Numerous official inquiries into adult diabetes services have found no evidence to suggest that T2DM prevention and care are effectively managed, and failure to do so leads to higher costs to the NHS as well as less than adequate support for at risk people and those with the condition.
 
Damning official inquires into adult diabetes services
A 2015 NAO report into adult diabetes services found, “that performance in delivering key care processes and achieving treatment standards [recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)], which help to minimise the risk of diabetes patients developing complications in the future, is no longer improving . . . . There are significant variations across England in delivering key care processes, achieving treatment standards and improving outcomes for diabetes patients, (and)  . . . There are still 22,000 people estimated to be dying each year from diabetes-related causes that could potentially be avoided”. 
The 9 basic processes for diabetes care
The nine NICE recommended basic processes of diabetes care are: (i) blood glucose level measurement (HbA1c), (ii) blood pressure measurement, (iii) cholesterol level measurement, (iv) retinal screening, (v) foot and leg checks, (vi) kidney function testing (urine),  (vii) kidney function testing (blood), (viii) weight check, and (ix) smoking status check.
No strong national leadership and depressingly poor progress
When the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reported on adult diabetes services in 2012 it found that, "progress in delivering the (NICE) recommended standards of care and in achieving treatment targets has been depressingly poor. There is no strong national leadership, no effective accountability arrangements for commissioners (local healthcare providers), and no appropriate performance incentives for providers." Four years later, a 2016 PAC inquiry into adult diabetes services reported that nothing of significance had changed. The Committee was concerned, “that performance in delivering key care processes and achieving treatment standards is no longer improving”, and it challenged, “the Department of Health, the NHS and Public Health England on their lack of progress in improving patient care and support”.
 
The UK’s cycle of ineffective diabesity services
The NAO and the PAC inquiries appear to have identified a cycle of ineffectiveness among the UK’s diabetes establishment, which manifests itself in a familiar scenario. Here is a stereotypical picture.
 
Each year, after the publication of the latest prevalence data for obesity and diabetes, Diabetes UK, a leading charity, “calls on the government to do more”, the National Clinical Director for Obesity and Diabetes at NHS England makes a defensive statement usually emphasising the positive aspects of diabetes services. NHS England continues to spend £14.3bn each year on the treatment of diabesity. There continues to be little improvement in the 20,000 plus unnecessary annual diabetes-related deaths, and 7,000 avoidable amputations. Diabesity services continue to be inflexible and process, rather than outcomes driven. Nothing of substance changes, prevalence rates and eye-watering costs continue to rise, and no one is accountable.
 
This cycle of ineffectiveness reflects a dearth of national leadership among the diabetes establishment.
 
The Fundación Carlos Slim (FCS) appears successfully to have broken a similar cycle of ineffectiveness for the prevention and treatment of diabesity in Mexico. The Fundación used the weaknesses in Mexico’s primary healthcare system as an opportunity to re-engineer the prevention and treatment of diabesity with an innovative program called Casalud. The name is derived from two Spanish words: “casa” (house) and “salud” (health): ‘Homehealth’.
 
In 2008, when the FCS launched the Casalud program, the primary care services of both the UK and Mexico were similar in in their inflexibility, and in emphasising treatment processes and service delivery rather than value-based healthcare. This emphasis results in weak primary care systems, which contribute to the increased prevalence of diabesity.
 
We will draw lessons from the Casalud program, but before doing so let us consider the grounds for a comparison between the healthcare systems of the UK and Mexico.
 


UK and Mexico compared

In both countries the prevalence of obesity and T2DM are high and increasing. Both governments’ healthcare systems are struggling to effectively cope with the vast and growing burden of diabesity. Mexico’s Seguro Popular, which is roughly equivalent to NHS England, serves about 57m people: which includes 60% - 34m - of Mexico’s poorest non-salaried workers employed in the informal sector. Mexico’s population is younger than the UK’s. The median age of Mexico’s 129m citizens is 29 years, whereas in the UK, which has a population of 65m, the median age is 40 years.
 
Both the UK and Mexico struggle with structural challenges associated with the supply and competence levels of health professionals. These manifest themselves in significant local variations in the effectiveness of diabesity prevention and treatment, and in lengthy waiting times for GP consultations.
 
Annual foot checks in the UK and Mexico
In England for instance, standard annual recommended foot checks for people with diabetes vary as much as 4Xs depending on where you live. Each year 415,000 or 13.3% of people with T2DM do not receive foot checks, which increases their risk of amputation, and fuels the 7,000 avoidable lower limb amputations carried out each year. Similarly in Mexico, 60% of people with diabetes fail to have their feet examined during primary care consultations, and between 86,000 and 134,000 diabetes-related amputations occur each year.
 
Responding to the recent English findings, Professor Jonathan Valabhji, the National Clinical Director for Obesity and Diabetes at NHS England said; “It is very important as many people as possible receive their foot checks at the right time – currently each year 85% of people with diabetes receive these foot checks.”
 

Leadership to break the cycle of ineffective healthcare services
In contrast to the UK’s diabetes establishment, the Casalud program provides strong, well-coordinated national leadership, and effective accountability and performance incentives for local healthcare providers. It does not however, deliver direct healthcare services; these are provided by the state. Instead Casalud concentrates on fostering the implementation and use of innovative technology, which it has designed to enhance patient centred primary care, extend healthcare into communities and homes, encourage self-management, engage in prevention programs, and enhance the competence and capacity of healthcare professionals within Seguro Popular.
 
For the Casalud program to stand a chance of being supported by the Mexican government, and implemented nationally, the FCS understood that it was essential to collect convincing performance data in its pilot program. From its inception therefore, the Casalud program developed and agreed with the relevant healthcare agencies a suite of performance measures, data collection protocols and reporting systems. This helped the Fundación to secure the backing of key national and regional healthcare agencies.
 
The FCS chose a social franchising model for the Casalud program, which uses commercial best practice to achieve socially beneficial ends, rather than profit. This makes the program significantly different to the endeavours of some UK public and non-profit bureaucracies, which provide diabesity services.
Some common aspects of bureaucracies
Here we briefly describe some common aspects of bureaucracies, which suggest that over time, bureaucratic organizations may become ineffective diabesity service providers. Bureaucracies are machine-like organizations characterised by hierarchical authority, a detailed division of labour, and a set of rules and standard procedures, which staff are obliged to follow. Rules provide a means for achieving organisational goals, but the following of the rules sometimes displaces the actual objective of the organisation, and organisational objectives become secondary. This is encouraged by the fact that people in bureaucracies tend to be judged on the basis of observance of rules and not results. For example, in an organisation, say committed to diabetes services, performance may be judged on the basis of whether expenditure has been incurred according to rules and regulations. Thus, expenditure becomes the criterion of performance measurement, and not the results achieved through expenditure. Bureaucracies almost completely avoid public discussion of its techniques, although there may be some discussion of its policies. This secrecy is believed to be necessary to prevent “valuable information” from leaking out, and going to competitors. “Trained incapacity” is a term sometimes applied to bureaucracies to describe training and skills, which have been successful in the past, but are unsuccessful under present changed conditions. Inadequate flexibility, in an evolving environment such as healthcare, will result in ineffectiveness.
 mHealth platform embedded with bespoke tools
The Casalud program avoided bureaucratic traps that result in ineffectiveness by developing a flexible mHeath platform (the use of mobile phones and other wireless technology in medical care) with an embedded suite of proprietary software, which connects patients to health providers, nudges people to self-manage their own health, and to become integral members of local care teams. The platform is used for mobile screening, providing patients with their own individual healthcare dashboards, online healthcare education, supply chain monitoring, standardizing electronic patient records, and big data strategies. It also acts as an entry point for patients, support for health professionals to identify at-risk people, make early diagnosis, and quickly begin diabesity management, and structure follow-up with patients over time.
 


The Casalud program’s successful pilot

In 2009, the FCS began a 3-year pilot of its Casalud program in 7 Mexican states, which resulted in improved patient knowledge about diabesity, enhanced self-management among people with the condition, increased clinician knowledge of diabesity prevention and management, and improved clinical decision-making.
 
The FCS used performance data from its pilot to secure a partnership with the Mexican Ministry of Health to extend the Casalud program to 120 primary care clinics serving 1.3m people across 20 Mexican states - 4 to 10 clinics in each state. Also, the performance data was successful in getting the Casalud program adopted as an integral component of the National Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Pre-obesity, Obesity and Diabetes. So, within three years the Casalud program went from a relatively small charity-backed start-up to a significant component in a nationally supported healthcare system.
 
It is reasonable to assume that this was partly due to the leadership provided by the FCS, and partly due to setting, collecting and reporting appropriate performance indicators. The FCS acted similarly to a lead institution in a commercial endeavour, and successfully recruited key contributing partners who were prepared to share the costs of the program’s national rollout. The FCS covers the cost of all the software development, and the training of healthcare professionals for the Casalud program. All the software is owned by the FCS, and licensed free-of-charge to the Mexican government. The federal government covers the cost of all computer hardware used in participating clinics, and local state governments cover the cost of Casalud’s operations, which include such things as laboratory tests and medications.
 


The 5 components of the Casalud program

To better understand the Casalud program and its contribution to enhanced diabesity services we review its five components: (i) proactive prevention and detection of diabesity, (ii) evidence-based management of diabesity, (iii) supply chain improvements, (iv) capacity-building of healthcare professionals, and (v) patient engagement and empowerment. Each component has an on-going monitoring system associated with it, which informs the FCS on the status of the program’s implementation.
 
1. Proactive prevention and detection of diabesity
Previous attempts in Mexico at community based screening for diabesity have failed. However, the FCS insisted that a national screening strategy was important for reducing the burden of diabesity, but understood its case would need to be supported by appropriate performance data, which would require systematic collection and reporting. To help achieve this the FCS developed two online risk assessment tools, which capture, assess and report data on peoples’ risk factors of diabesity.
 
One of these tools is used in clinics, and the other, which is portable, used in homes and communities. Both screen and categorise people as, (i) healthy, (ii) at risk of diabesity, and (iii) already diagnosed as obese or with T2DM. Screening allows local healthcare professionals to suggest personalised lifestyle changes to individuals either to help them reduce their risk of diabesity or to improve their management of the condition. Each participating clinic has a screening goal. Screening data are collated and reported weekly on a pubic system, which incentivizes the clinics in their screening endeavours.
 
Having a portable device means that populations, which previously did not have access to healthcare are included in the screening. While this increased the number of reported people with diabesity, over time it lowered healthcare costs because early detection reduced the use of urgent care facilities. This proactive component of the Casalud program and the performance data resulted in the support of federal healthcare officials who saw the advantages of using technology to integrate communities, families, and patients into a continuum of care. The tools also extended care to people and communities that previously had little access to healthcare, and encouraged patients to use technology to manage their own health, which health authorities appreciated.
 
2. Evidence-based diabesity management
The second component of the Casalud program is an evidence-based diabesity management system, which is supported by more software developed by the FCS. This includes agreed international best practice protocols for diabesity prevention and management, a digital portfolio for health professionals, electronic monitoring of patients in order to improve the accuracy and reliability of performance measurements and patient data. Such data are used to improve the quality of clinical decision-making.

Examples of the data collected and reported are the percentages of people with T2DM and their corresponding laboratory test results. Casalud’s study found that out of 961,733 patients with T2DM, only 20% had an HbA1c (blood glucose) measurement. Further, only 40.7% of patients with an HbA1c measurement had their HbA1c levels under control (below 7%).  All data are made available at the national, state and clinic levels, and are thereby expected to empower healthcare providers to base their health policy decisions on the areas of most need.
 
3. Supply chain improvement
Mexico like other emerging countries suffers from an inconsistent supply of medicines and laboratory tests, which is a significant obstacle to optimal disease prevention and management. Drug supply decisions in Mexico are centralized and made at a state or federal level. This is different to the UK, and other developed countries.
 
This component of the Casalud program uses a proprietary online information system that standardizes metrics for stock management at the clinic level to improve the supply of medicines and laboratory tests. The software is made available on mobile phones to make it easy for health professionals to ensure that stock levels are adequate for clinics to provide a quality service. In addition, Casalud uses these data to raise awareness with federal and state healthcare officials of inefficiencies in supply chains, which could fuel complications and increase healthcare costs. Prior to Casalud there was no accurate and systematic way to assess and report on the supply of medicines and laboratory tests.
 
4. Capacity building for healthcare professionals
Casalud’s forth component is an interactive platform to develop the capacity of healthcare professionals through online education, which leads to diplomas conferred by national and foreign universities. The FCS partnered with Harvard University’s Joslin Diabetes Center, and Mexico’s National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition to develop courses that certify competence in key areas of diabesity prevention, diagnosis and management. One course is designed to update doctors’ knowledge of diabesity, and the other is a practical course developed by faculty of the Joslin Diabetes Center in which health professionals solve real-life cases to test their knowledge in practical settings.
 
Certificates act as non-monetary incentives for health professionals, and to promote competition between clinics and health professionals. This helps to increase participation in the program, improve the quality of care, encourage openness and transparency, and increase collaboration between clinics.
 
Software developed by the FCS assists local clinics to capture data on the characteristics of the participating healthcare professionals, their baseline knowledge, and improvements after each course. These data are aggregated to choose a clinic of excellence for each state, and a national clinic of excellence; both of which are publicly recognised awards, and help with Casalud’s national rollout strategy.
 
Further, performance data are contributed to the National Strategy for Improving Skills and Capacity of Healthcare Personnel, which obliges all Mexican healthcare institutions to engage in formal online training that is, personalized, linked to a continuing education program, validated by academic institutions and independently monitored. Casalud’s capacity building component fulfils all of these criteria.
 
5. Patient engagement and empowerment
With the help of the Joslin Diabetes Center, the Mayo Clinic, and Mexico’s National Nutrition Institute, this component has two mobile applications, which assess patient engagement, knowledge of diabesity, and confidence and skills in order to help them understand their health, begin to self-monitor their condition, interpret their own results, and implement beneficial lifestyle changes. A specific app for people with T2DM allows them to schedule medicines and appointment reminders, input glucose and weight measurements, and receive immediate personalized feedback and educational messages from health professionals.

However, the FCS changed its approach following evidence from the program’s pilot, which suggested that due to the characteristics of the patient population – elderly, rural, and with limited access to and familiarity with technology – mobile technology alone would not lead to a high percentage of patient engagement. So, Casalud implemented a suite of in-person interactions and activities, which are thought to be more appropriate for the specific patient population.

Such a change may not be necessary in the UK and other developed countries. In the UK for instance, the growth trend in smartphone ownership is present in all age groups, and fastest among 55-64 year olds, which jumped from 39% in 2014 to 50% in 2015. While those aged over 55 are more likely to own a laptop the gap is closing. Among younger age groups, 90% of those aged 16-24 now owns a smartphone.
 


Takeaways

Although the Casalud program has encountered challenges associated with Mexico’s patchy technological infrastructure, entrenched attitudes of some health professionals, and fragmentation and lack of uniformity of its primary healthcare system; the program has been successful; not least because of its flexibility and speed of adjusting to prevailing conditions. In 2015 a Brookings Institution research paper concluded that, “Casalud has made significant strides in transforming care delivery in Mexico”. 

Casalud’s development and implementation continues. It is an innovative program, which employs appropriate technology and evidence-based knowledge to re-engineer Mexico’s public sector primary healthcare system by encouraging patient self-management to reduce the country’s vast and increasing diabesity burden.
 
Casalud provided leadership and seed money to secure financial support from and create consensus between the federal and state governments, and obtain local support from clinics, healthcare professionals and patients. The program is on-going and warrants consideration from the UK’s diabetes establishment, and those of other countries wrestling with the burden of diabesity.
 
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  • 16% of Mexico’s population has type-2 diabetes (T2DM) and each year it kills 70,000
  • Mexican mothers feed their children sugary beverages from birth and create soda addicts
  • In 2014 a national sugar tax on fizzy drinks was introduced, but sales on untaxed sugary beverages increased
  • The Carlos Slim Foundation (CSF) takes fundamental action to dent Mexico’s T2DM epidemic
  • The CSF collaborates with MIT’s Broad Institute to conduct the largest and most comprehensive genomic study on T2DM in Mexican populations
  • Three years later CSF announces the discovery of the first common genetic variant shown to predispose Mexicans to T2DM
  • Findings could lead to improved diagnostics and new therapies for T2DM, say experts
  • The Broad Institute and the CSF make their genomic studies and other data freely available to scientists worldwide
  • Organizations with bureaucratic walls that restrict the free-flow and sharing of knowhow and information significantly impede the advancement of our understanding and management of globally important chronic conditions such as T2DM
 
Slim lessons in diabetes understanding and management

What can a self-made 77-year-old son of Catholic Lebanese immigrants to Mexico contribute to our understanding and management of T2DM?
 
77-year-old Carlos Slim built a business empire, which today is worth the equivalent to 6% of Mexico’s GDP. His company Grupo Carso is influential in every sector of the Mexican economy, and he is currently the chairman and CEO of telecom giants Telmex and América Móvil. Slim believes that businessmen should do more than just give‍ money, and says they "should participate in solving problems".

An important aspect of reducing the significant burden of chronic health conditions such as T2DM, is to reduce the bureaucracies of key organizations, which impede the sharing of important knowhow that help our understanding and management of these globally important disease.
 
Slim has turned his attention to Mexico’s vast and escalating diabetes epidemic, which devastates the lives of millions, and significantly dents the Mexican economy. Recently, the Carlos Slim Foundation (CSF) started applying the knowhow and skills used to build world-class companies to tackle the Mexican diabetes burden, and in less than three years, discovered a gene, which contributes to the significantly higher incidence rate of T2DM in Latin Americans. The CSF intends to build on this to develop new treatments.
 


Diabetes in Mexico

Each year, T2DM related complications kill 70,000 Mexicans. In 2015, there were 11m people with diabetes in Mexico - almost 12% of its adult population - projected to rise to some 16m by 2035. Mexico has one of the world’s highest rates of childhood obesity, a significant contributory risk factor of T2DM. The prevalence of overweight or obese children and adolescents between 5 and 19 years is 35%. This is believed to be the result of mother’s feeding their babies sugary drinks: partly because of the lack of clean water, and partly cultural since many Mexicans consider chubby babies to be good. According to Dr. Salvador Villalpando, a childhood obesity specialist at the Federico Gomez Children's Hospital in Mexico City, “about 10% of Mexican children are fed soda from birth to six months, and by the time they reach two it's about 80%." Mexico has become the No. 1 per capita consumer of sugary beverages, with the average person drinking more than 46 gallons per year: nearly 50% more than the average American.
 
Over the last 20 years, the prevalence of T2DM in Mexico, a country with a population of 122 million, has increased rapidly. The Mexican health system is struggling to effectively adapt to the diabetes burden facing the nation. Healthcare spending represents approximately 6% of GDP and is divided near equally between the public and private sectors. The former, supports mostly low-income non-salaried workers, accounting for about 60% of those in work: some 30m. The latter, is an employer-based scheme linked to salaried workers.


Sugar tax

So acute is the problem of T2DM in Mexico that in January 2014, the government introduced a 10% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Research published in the British Medical Journal in 2016 suggests that the tax resulted in a 6% reduction in the purchases of taxed beverages in the first year, increasing to 12% by the end of the second year. The study also reported increases in purchases of untaxed beverages. Findings are disputed by the drinks industry. “Fizzy drinks only account for 5.6% of Mexico's average calorie consumption so can only be a small part of the solution to obesity and diabetes,” says Jorge Terrazas of Anprac; Mexico's bottled drinks industry body.
  
Carlos Slim Foundation and diabetes

The obesity epidemic, aging population and escalating health costs have increasingly strained resources and exacerbated Mexico’s diabetes burden, which the CSF is intent to reduce. In 2010 the Foundation formed an association with MIT’s Broad Institute. With an investment of US$74m it formed the Slim Initiative in Genomic Medicine for the Americas (SIGMA). It was a natural fit because Slim knows just how big data strategies transformed retail businesses and also cancer research and therapies; and the Broad Institute specialises in developing big genomic data sets and making them available to molecular scientists in premier research centres throughout world in order to transform medicine. From its inception SIGMA set out to systematically identify genes underlying diabetes.
 
The development of T2DM depends on complex inheritance-environment interactions along with certain lifestyle behaviors. Previous HealthPad Commentaries have described such complexities. One described the lifetime research endeavors of Professor Sir Steve Bloom, Head of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Imperial College London, on obesity and the gut-brain relationship.
 
SIGMA believed that having access to genomic research undertaken by a network of world class scientists holds out the possibility of discovering fundamental aspects of the biological mechanisms linked to T2DM. And this could form the basis for more effective diagnostics and new and improved therapies for the condition. Until recently, only a select group of specialists had full access to such data. The CSF was also mindful that their relationship with the Broad Institute would help build Mexico’s capacity in genomic medicine.
 
T2DM risk gene found in Latin Americans

A major focus of SIGMA’s 2010 research agenda was to identify the genetic risk factors that contribute to the significantly higher incidence rate of T2DM in Mexico compared with the rest of the world. SIGMA conducted the largest and most comprehensive genomic study to date on T2DM in Mexican populations, which involved scientists at 125 institutions in 40 countries, and resulted in the discovery of the first common genetic variant shown to predispose Latin American’s to T2DM.

Findings show that people who carry the higher risk version of the gene are 25% more likely to have diabetes than those who do not. People who inherit copies of the gene from both parents are 50% more likely to have diabetes. The higher risk-form of the gene is present in half of the people with recent Native American ancestry, including Latin Americans. The elevated frequency of this risk gene in Latin Americans could account for, as much as 20% of the populations’ increased prevalence of T2DM. The gene variant also is found in about 20% of East Asians, but is rare in populations from Europe and Africa.

 
Doing science with one eye closed

"Most genomic research has focused on European or European-derived populations, which is like doing science with one eye closed,” says Eric Lander, Professor of Biology at MIT and President and Founding Director of the Broad Institute, who went on to say, “There are many discoveries that can only be made by studying non-European populations." José Florez, a principal investigator of the SIGMA study adds, “By expanding our search to include samples from Mexico and Latin America, we’ve found one of the strongest genetic risk factors discovered to date, which could illuminate new pathways to target with drugs and a deeper understanding of T2DM.”
 
The impact of evolutionary science on healthcare systems

Roger Kornberg, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in chemistry, "for his studies of the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription", describes how human genome sequencing and genomic research fundamentally changed the way healthcare is organized and delivered. “Genomic sequencing enables us to identify every component of the body responsible for all life processes. In particular, it enables the identification of components, which are either defective or whose activity we may wish to edit in order to improve a medical condition,” says Kornberg.
 
 
Website helps translating genomic discoveries into therapies

Three years following their discoveries; the CSF launched SIGMA 2 with a mandate to complete its genetic analysis of T2DM, improve diagnostics, and develop therapeutic roadmaps to guide the development of new treatments. SIGMA 2 also planned to ramp up scientific capabilities in both the US, and Mexico by developing a unique resource. In 2016 SIGMA 2 created a website of open-access genetic data on T2DM. The site contains data available from all the SIGMA studies, plus information on major international data networks, including more than 100,000 DNA samples, and the complete results of 28 large genome association studies. Scientists throughout the world have free access to these data.
 
The importance of the open exchange of information

The new web portal represents a breakthrough, because it allows scientists throughout the world access to genetic information, and this is expected to accelerate progress of our understanding and treating diabetes. “The open exchange of information is essential for scientific progress, but it is not always easily achievable. This site not only helps us to overcome this barrier – by allowing access to patient data from around the world – but also will allow directing scientists to the most prevalent genetic risk factors among the populations of Latin America and others who have been underrepresented in large-scale genomic studies,” says Lander who believes that, "It is essential that the benefits of the genomic revolution are accessible to people throughout the Americas and the world."

The SIGMA project has been a story of total success. Our extraordinary partners, both in Mexico and the US, have made it possible to make historic advances in the understanding of the basic causes of T2DM. We hope that through our contributions we will be able to improve the ways in which the disease is detected, prevented and treated,” says Roberto Tapia-Conyer, CEO of the CSF.

 
Takeaways
 
So, for an investment of US$25m a year for three years SIGMA made a significant discovery, which could beneficially affect the diagnostics and treatment of T2DM, and it also enhanced Mexico’s capacity for genomic research. Such success was due, in part, to the leadership of a 77-year-old Mexican businessman intent on solving problems, who thought globally, partnered with world-class institutions, understood and supported the potential of big data strategies and genomic research, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Eric Lander against healthcare organizations, which build and defend bureaucratic walls that significantly restrict the open access of knowhow and data.
 
 
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  • Diabetes UK’s (DUK) 2016 State of the Nation Report calls for diabetes education to be improved
  • Effective education can reduce the vast and escalating burden of diabetes and is significantly cheaper than treatment
  • Traditional diabetes education is failing miserably
  • DUK’s education only reaches a small percentage of people with diabetes
  • Self-management is the only realistic way forward to better diabetes management, but will require a transformation of the current patient-educator relationship
  • Could DUK play a leading role in this transformation?
 
Improving diabetes education to enhance patient outcomes
 
For the past decade at least, the charity Diabetes UK (DUK) has been “calling for governments to do more” to improve diabetes care in order to stem the vast and escalating burden of the condition. Currently, 4m people or 6% of the population are living with diabetes in the UK, and this is projected to rise to 5m by 2025. It is estimated that around 10% of the NHS yearly budget is contributed to the treatment of diabetes; which equates to £10.3bn a year.

The prevalence of type-2 diabetes (T2DM) in particular has been increasing rapidly, and is now one of the world’s most common long-term health conditions. Life expectancy on average is reduced by up to 10 years for people with T2DM. Experts say effective education can prevent the onset of T2DM, help with its management once diagnosed, and slow the onset of complications, such as heart failure, blindness, kidney disease and lower limp amputations. The 2016 DUK State of the Nation report called for diabetes education to be improved.

 
Traditional diabetes education is failing

In the video below Richard Lane, Ambassador and Immediate Past President of DUK, describes the significant improvements in diabetes education since he was first diagnosed in the 1970s, and briefly describes DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating), one of the official UK adult courses for managing type-1 diabetes. Also, a patient with type-1 describes how helpful she found some voluntary diabetes educational courses.
 
 

Notwithstanding individual successes, traditional diabetes education programs are failing to reach a sufficient number of people to be effective in reducing the overall burden of the condition. Only 2% of people diagnosed with type-1 diabetes and 6% with T2DM attend official diabetes educational courses. Each year there are 24,000 early deaths from diabetes-related complications, and also 7,000 avoidable amputations. DUK wants 50% of people living with diabetes to receive education over the next five years.
 
DUK's education and support

DUK spends about 50% of the money it raises annually on diabetes education. Of the £37m it raised in 2015 it spent £8.0m on its “Better Care Everywhere” program that works with healthcare institutions, “to make sure people had access to the 15 healthcare essentials”; £7.0m on its “Not Alone with Diabetes” program, which is its helpline; £1.5m “Reducing the Risk of Diabetes”, which is DUK’s participation in the National Diabetes Prevention Program; and £8.2m, “Growing the Impact of DUK’s Work”, which develops “networks of healthcare professionals,” to “work with local community groups and volunteers all over the country”: a total of £24.7m. 

Here we describe these expenditures as education and support services. 
Despite over £20m worth of diabetes educational and support services delivered by DUK each year, and the £10.3bn spent by the NHS on diabetes care and education, diabetes in the UK remains the largest and fastest growing health challenge of our time. “Diabetes is a very serious and complex health condition that requires constant self-management,” says Chris Askew, DUK’s CEO. 
 
A fundamental transformation is required

Increasing self-management is relevant, especially as resources for diabetes are shrinking as the prevalence of the condition is rapidly increasing, particularly among children. However, achieving effective self-management requires a fundamental transformation of the way diabetes education is delivered. 

It is projected that 66% of people in the UK will have smartphones by 2017. It seems reasonable to assume therefore that the majority of people  living with diabetes will have smartphones by 2017. People regularly use their smartphones for 24-hour banking, education, entertainment, shopping, and dating. Diabetes education has failed to effectively leverage this vast and rapidly growing free infrastructure and peoples’ changed lifestyles to introduce effective educational support systems to enhance the quality of diabetes care, increase efficiency, and improve patient outcomes. Today, mobile technology is part of everyday life and people expect to be connected with their relevant service providers 24-7, 365 days of the year from anywhere. 

Here is just one example of a simple evidence-based  dashboard designed to help re-engineer primary care management of diabetes by (i) increasing the connectivity between health professionals and patients, (ii) enhancing patient knowledge of diabetes, (iii) encouraging people to self-manage their condition, (iv) increasing the efficiency of GP clinics, and in the medium to longer term, (I) keep people out of A&E, and (ii) slow the onset of complications. 
 


Click on the image to see a demonstration of the dashboard
 

At very little cost, such a system could be rolled-out nationally through Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG), integrated into GP clinics, and provide the basis of a national platform for diabetes education. Once patients and health professionals become engaged and familiar with the initial service offering, CCGs can bolt on additional services to further help people ward-off or manage their diabetes. This follows the model of digital champions, which succeed by using a core service to engage, and build a user base, and then add more services, so continuously increasing their users’ familiarity with their services. Engaging patients and health professionals any other way tends to fail.

The  diabetes education dashboard ensures that people either at risk of diabetes or living with diabetes will always be part of an educator-patient network, which should increase the variety; velocity, volume and value of educational healthcare information patients receive.

 
The escalating incidence of diabetes is not new

Data reported by DUK in 2015 revealed that over the past decade the number of people living with diabetes increased by 60%, and the charity’s leaders claimed that the public health situation in the UK with regard to diabetes is being allowed “to spiral out of control”. “Diabetes already costs the NHS nearly £10bn a year, and 80% of this is spent on managing avoidable complications,” said Barbara Young, then the CEO of DUK. Such findings, while shocking, are not new. 
 

The vast and escalating burden of diabetes

Tackling diabetes is important for the future of the NHS as there are over 4m people living with diabetes in the UK at present. This represents 6% of the UK population, or 1 in every 16 people. About 90% of the cases have T2DM. 90% of people with T2DM are overweight. Lifestyle changes and weight loss can help to prevent T2DM from ever occurring. Obesity is 40% more common among people living in deprived areas. 11.9m people in the UK are currently at risk of developing T2DM, but more than half could delay or even prevent a diagnosis by improved diets and lifestyles. This requires effective education that engages people and encourage them towards healthier lifestyles. About 10% of the cases are Type-1, which usually develops in childhood, and is often inherited. The NHS spends £10.3bn every year on treating diabetes, which equates to 10% of its entire budget. 80% of this is spent on diabetes medication. The annual indirect costs, such as productivity loss and informal care, are estimated to be £13bn. Effective education is cheaper than treatment.

 
The government will not spend more on diabetes

DUK’s repeated calls for the government to do more for diabetes care have been unsuccessful. This is largely because the NHS is struggling to cope with a surge in demand for care while suffering a major budget squeeze. In 2016, the government took back control of overspending semi-autonomous hospitals as part of its crackdown to tackle a NHS deficit of £2.45bn; the biggest overspend in its history.
 
DUK is a significant provider of diabetes education

To look at some aspects of DUK’s educational achievements we have taken a selection of extracts from its 2015 Annual Report. Against each extract is a short comment.

DUK:11,000 people learnt how to better understand and manage their condition through our Type 2 online education course.” 
 
COMMENT: This represents about 0.3% of the people in England diagnosed with T2DM.
 
DUK:Our care line supported 22,361 people who needed encouragement, information or someone to talk to”. 
 
COMMENT: This represents about 0.6% of people in England living with diabetes.
 
DUK:5.9m visits to the Diabetes UK website in 2015 – almost 10 per cent more than the year before – giving people the opportunity to learn more about the condition, what we do and how to get involved.”               
 
COMMENT: The key question here is the quality of the visit to the DUK website. Questions include inter alia: What is the average ‘dwell time’ for each visitor to DUK’s website? How many repeat visits does the website receive? What is the average number of pages viewed by visitors to DUK’S website? What are the most popular website pages viewed? What are the least popular website pages? How many visitors to the website come from the UK? What percentage of the people who visit the website “get involved”? How long do they stay involved? What percentage of the website’s visitors register with the site?
                                            
DUK:15,196 people found out their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes at one of our Roadshows – and can now take steps to avoid it.” 
 
COMMENT: This represents about 0.1% of the people in the UK at risk of T2DM.
 
DUK: “Educated more than 17,000 healthcare professionals to better work with and support those living with diabetes.”
 
COMMENT: Is this cost-effective? Would not online engagement be more appropriate?
 
DUK:11,000 people registered to educate themselves about managing their Type 2 diabetes via our online course Type 2 Diabetes and Me.”
 
COMMENT: This represents about 0.3% of people in England diagnosed with T2DM.
 
DUK:11.9 million people in the UK are currently at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, but more than half of those people could delay or even prevent a diagnosis . . . In 2015 we worked with NHS England and Public Health England to develop the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme. This partnership has the potential to help people in England who are at high risk delay – in some cases even prevent – Type 2 diabetes, and is being watched by the rest of the UK with interest.
 
COMMENT: In 2015 the UK government's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) observed that the national prevention initiative, which costs over £35m each year, lacked urgency, and recommended that it should, “develop a better and more flexible range of education support for diabetes patients.
 
A HealthPad Commentary reviewed the national prevention program, described an innovative and successful US diabetes prevention initiative, and concluded that because the UK program employed 19th century technologies to address a 21st century epidemic it would likely fail. The Commentary further argued that preventing T2DM entails winning the battle against obesity, reducing poverty, and changing peoples’ diets and lifestyles. To do this, education programs need to employ modern behavior techniques to engage people and coax them to change their behaviour.
 

A further HealthPad Commentary, described the growing frustration of the government’s PAC and the National Audit Office (NAO) with the country’s diabetes establishment.
 
DUK: Our ‘Know Your Risk’ volunteers helped over 15,000 people find out their risk of Type 2 diabetes at one of our events, while our online tool was used over 240,000 times.”
 
COMMENT: This represents 0.47% and between 6 to 7.5% respectively of people living with T2DM in England.
 
DUK should report costs and outcomes not costs and the distribution of services

Two points about DUK’s statements of its educational achievements:
  1. The majority of the charity’s education and support services only appear to reach a small percentage of the total number of people either at risk of T2DM or those living with diabetes. We have drawn attention to the fact that a large percentage of people with T2DM are over weight and 40% of obese people reside in deprived areas of the UK. To be effective diabetes education must have the Heineken effect.
  2. For the past decade at least, the DUK has tended to report the costs and distribution of its education and support services. More relevant would be for the charity to report costs and the effects its services have had on reducing the burden of diabetes, slowing complications, improving efficiencies, and enhancing patient outcomes.
Diabetes education providers should adopt school performance measures

For years the UK’s state education service has been using pupil outcome measures to rate the performance of its schools. Why is this not the case for diabetes education? Can you imagine if year-after-year millions of children in England were failing their public examinations, and year-after-year education officers only reported the costs and distribution of their services?  Can you imagine if the public education services only taught a very small percentage of the children eligible for education and there was no information about children’s performance in examinations?
 
Would people accept an education report that said, “This year Worthy schools spent £20m on physics teaching, which only reached 0.3% of pupils who would benefit from the subject, and we have no idea what percentage of those that were taught either took or passed the recommended physics exams”?
 
Technologies facilitate and transform diabetes education

With failing education programs people with diabetes are being driven to self-manage their condition with inadequate support. Inexpensive and ubiquitous technologies facilitate this, and increasingly people are demanding tools that track weight, blood pressure, daily exercise and diet. From apps to wearables, healthcare technology lets people feel in control of their health, while also providing health professionals with more patient data than ever before. 
 
With more than 100,000 health apps, rapid growth in wearables, and 75% of the UK population now owning a smartphone, digital technology is well positioned to significantly improve diabetes education and management. Such technologies while ubiquitous, are ineffective if only used as an adjunct to traditional education. Traditional diabetes education programs have failed to introduce widespread digital support strategies, which significantly enhance the quality of care, increase efficiencies, and improve patient outcomes for the majority of people living with diabetes.
 
In the first video below Richard Lane describes how digital technology is helping people self-manage their diabetes. In the second, Lane and a patient diagnosed with T2DM suggest that the biggest challenge for diabetes care is actually engaging people who are either at risk of the condition or living with diabetes. Only once people are engaged do you stand a chance to raise their awareness of the disease, and encourage them to change their diets and lifestyles in order to slow the progression of the condition and even prevent it.
 
How can mHealth help in the management of diabetes?
 
What are the biggest challenges of diabetes care?
 
Changing the patient-educator relationship
 
Self-management of diabetes should not be viewed simply as developing a website and providing a portfolio of techniques and tools to help people living with diabetes choose healthy behaviours. A necessary pre-requisite for effective education to reduce the burden of diabetes is the actual engagement of people who are either at risk of T2DM or living with diabetes. (Where are the national diabetes registers?). Once engaged education should inform and empower people, and provide them with access to continuous self-management support. This is substantially different to the way traditional diabetes education is delivered as it transforms the patient–educator relationship into a continuous, rich, collaborative partnership. A future HealthPad Commentary will describe an innovative and cost effective Mexican mHealth program, which has radically changed the patient-educator relationship by encouraging people, who are either at risk of T2DM or living with the condition, to take ownership of their own health, and become an integral member of their care team.
 
Takeaways

Diabetes is an out of control killer disease, which experts belief could be stemmed, reduced and prevented with effective education that is significantly cheaper than paying for treatment. Current diabetes education programs are failing miserably, and the prevalence of the disease is increasing rapidly, especially in young children.

Diabetes education and support require a radical overhaul to prevent the disease from spiralling out of control and bankrupting the NHS. This needs leadership to shape and drive a new and effective diabetes engagement/education model. Could DUK provide this?
 
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