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Diabetes Patients Do Better After Surgery When Their Blood Sugar Is Managed by Pharmacists

Posted: 28th October 2015 08:17

A pharmacy-led glycemic control program is linked to improved outcomes for surgical patients with diabetes and those who develop stress-induced hyperglycemia or high blood sugar as a result of surgery, according to a new Kaiser Permanente study published in the American Journal of Pharmacy Benefits. 

The study compared patients who had surgery after the glycemic control program started to patients who had surgery before the program started.

Patients in the glycemic control program were more than twice as likely to have well-controlled blood sugar after surgery. They also had fewer post-surgical complications and associated costs, fewer hospital readmissions and fewer visits to the emergency department.

"Patients with diabetes and uncontrolled blood sugar are more likely to have complications after surgery, such as wound infections that can land them back in the hospital," said David Mosen, PhD, lead author and researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon.

"We know that controlling blood sugar in these patients produces better clinical outcomes, but surgeons and anesthesia providers may not have the time or expertise to appropriately monitor and adjust insulin regimens after surgery," said Karen Mularski, MD, co-author and hospitalist from Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon. "Establishing a pharmacy-led care team dedicated to addressing the specific needs of diabetes patients undergoing surgery was crucial to improving blood sugar and overall outcomes."

The authors say this is the first study to show that a pharmacist-based glucose control program can potentially improve outcomes for surgery patients, and also lead to lower costs. Most prior research has focused on cardiovascular surgery patients and those in intensive care, where glucose control has already been shown to be important.

As part of the intervention, which began in 2009, every surgical patient at the Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center inPortland, Oregon had a blood sugar screening when they were admitted to the hospital. Those with known diabetes, or whose blood sugar readings revealed the development of a clinical condition called surgery-induced stress hyperglycemia, were referred to the Glycemic Control Team — a group of inpatient pharmacists whose sole job was to manage blood sugar in these patients.

Researchers compared 4,811 eligible patients in the first year of the intervention and 5,465 patients in the second year of the intervention to 1,277 patients in 2008, the year before the intervention started. Results were controlled for clinical and socioeconomic factors, and were similar for both years of the intervention. After the second year, patients in the intervention were:    

Because post-surgical complications and readmissions were reduced, associated costs were also reduced. On average, the patients in the intervention incurred $284 per month lower medical costs in the six months following discharge, compared to the control group.

As part of the intervention, the pharmacists worked with Kaiser Permanente surgeons, hospitalists, endocrinologists, diabetes educators and nutritionists to develop a protocol that included recommendations on when to begin and end intravenous insulin, how to transition from intravenous to subcutaneous insulin, how to adjust insulin doses, and how to manage patients on tube feedings or IV nutrition.

Once they received training on the protocol, the glycemic pharmacists, who were at the hospital for 10 hours a day, seven days a week, met individually with most patients to obtain a history and to explain why they were having their blood sugar checked so often and why they might be receiving insulin in the hospital, even if they were not on insulin at home. 

The glycemic pharmacists wrote and adjusted insulin orders, ordered relevant blood sugar and lab tests, requested consults with dieticians and diabetes educators, and made recommendations on post-discharge orders for insulin, oral medications and diabetic supplies. 

The study authors caution that this was not a randomized trial, and although they controlled for differences between the pre- and post-intervention patients, they could not rule out the possibility of other factors contributing to the improved outcomes.

The intervention was a quality improvement program funded by Kaiser Permanente.  

Authors include David M. Mosen, PhD, MPH, and Elizabeth Shuster, MS, from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research inPortland, Oregon; Karen S. Mularski, MD, from Northwest Permanente, Portland, Oregon; Richard A. Mularski, MD, MCR, from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research and Northwest Permanente; and Ariel K. Hill, MS, from Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, Oregon.

About the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research
The Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, founded in 1964, is a nonprofit research institution dedicated to advancing knowledge to improve health. It has research sites in Portland, Oregon, and Honolulu. Find out more at

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 10 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to:

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