Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Steve Hansen

Health meets tech

Presbyterian helps patients via two-way video.


September 27, 2017

Thomas Garcia

Diabetes patient Joanne Mays consults with a diabetes educator on a computer screen at the Presbyterian Medical Group Clinic, Tucumcari.

If you can't get patients to health professionals, the providers can consult with patients on two-way video.

That's the idea behind a "tele-health" program that Presbyterian Healthcare Services is operating through its Presbyterian Medical Group clinic in Tucumcari to help diabetes patients learn more about managing their condition.

Tucumcari's program is assisting 23 patients with advice about managing blood pressure, watching for early warning signs of diabetes complications and proper nutrition, according to Dr. Darrell Willis, who oversees the program in Tucumcari.

Patients confer with certified diabetes educators based in Albuquerque in 45-minute weekly sessions at a physician's office, Willis said.

In confidential one-on-one sessions, patients ask questions and respond to queries from the educators, Willis said.

It's working, Willis said, based on declines in A1C levels, which average about two points per patient. A1C is a measure of blood sugar over a period of months.

An A1C level over 6.5 percent denotes diabetes. A level between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent denotes pre-diabetes. A level below 5.7 percent is normal.

Willis said in a few cases, A1C levels have dropped from about 12 percent to 5 percent in patients who have been using the video conferencing.

Joanne Mays of Tucumcari, a diabetic, has been using the program "quite a while," she said.

In that time, she said, her blood sugar, as measured through regular blood tests, not A1C, has dropped significantly.

"The doctor told me it's pretty good," she said, "but he wants it to go down some more."

Her sessions with the diabetes educator, she said, have taught her more about nutrition than any other subject.

"I've learned to measure quantities of what I eat," she said. "I eat more veggies now and less meat."

Ten or 15 years ago, she remembers when a doctor told her that she had diabetes.

"He said you'll never get rid of it and you'll probably die from it," she said, but with education and help from programs like the video consultation, she is keeping it under control.

Diabetes, Willis said, is a very complicated condition.

When not well-managed, he said, it can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney damage leading to dialysis, blindess, and nerve disease, especially in the feet, which can lead to gangrene and serious injury.

The Tucumcari video conference program is a test, according to Alida Brown, coordinator of the Quay County Health Council.

Quay County was chosen for the test because it is an isolated, rural county with an unusually high diabetes caseload, Brown said.

In 2011, the New Mexico Department of Health estimated that about one of every five adults in Quay County is diabetic. Department of Health statistics for 2016 show that 40 percent of Quay County adults are obese. Obesity is closely associated with diabetes.

Of video diabetes counseling, Willis said, "We like this program."

Amanda Schoenberg, a spokesperson for Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said the Tucumcari program results are encouraging, and Presbyterian may adopt it all over the state.


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