They say there’s safety in numbers, and now it turns out, there’s better diabetes care in numbers, too.
A new study out of Canada suggests that people with diabetes do better when they participate in group discussions rather than learning about diabetes management on their own.
As reported in Medscape, a news service for medical professionals affiliated with WebMD, researchers in Ontario studied 75,000 patients and found better outcomes among those with access to diabetes group education.
“Compared with those attending individual counseling, patients who went to group classes were less likely to visit the emergency room, to be hospitalized for hypo- or hyperglycemia, or develop foot ulcers and cellulitis,” the article by Lisa Nainggolan said.
Interestingly, the research team had been initially skeptical, thinking that group education was preferred by medical professionals because it cost less than one-on-one consultations.
“So we wanted to investigate …what the difference was, based on individual appointments versus the group-class approach, recognizing that the ministry of health and payers are pushing toward group programs because they’re cheaper – you can treat more people with the same staff. We wanted to look at whether there was a clinical justification for that,” the study’s lead author, Baiju Shah, MD, PhD., told Nainggolan for Medscape Medical News.
To begin, Dr. Shah and his colleagues identified Ontario residents who participated in all forms of diabetes education in 2006. Most – more than 55,000 – had individual sessions. Just 12,234 participated in groups, and about 9,800 did both. The study included people with both Type 1 and Type 2.
Few studies like this have been done, and because the Canadian researchers had secondary data and didn’t interview the people involved, they can only speculate as to the reasons behind their conclusions. One reason Dr. Shah suggested to Medscape Medical News was that people in groups might have spent more time in the sessions than the individuals did, thus absorbing more information that was useful in their care. Then, of course, it may also be that there are significant benefits to be derived from shared experiences.
“Developing that sense of community and talking to others with the same experience and being able to share stories does have some value,” Dr. Shah told Nainggolan and Medscape.
I also have to wonder if relationships formed in the groups also contribute to the positive outcomes. When faced with a challenge like diabetes, there is relief and comfort in tribes: knowing other people who share the same language, use the same tools, follow the same rituals. Group education allows us to meet people in similar circumstances, and to form relationships that might endure for not just the length of the meeting, but for life.
In other words, the old adage is right, as old adages usually are. There’s safety in numbers, especially in T1 education and care. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed, or have been living with T1 for decades, this study suggests that we all should take the time to find a diabetes education or support group – go find your tribe!