From Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN.
Objective: Severe hypoglycemia can alter consciousness and inhibit oral intake, requiring nonoral rescue glucagon administration to raise blood glucose to safe levels. Thus, current guidelines recommend glucagon kit prescriptions for all patients at risk for hypoglycemia, especially patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM). At the diabetes outpatient clinic at a tertiary medical center, glucagon prescription rates for T1DM patients remained suboptimal.
Methods: A quality improvement team analyzed patient flow through the endocrinology clinic and identified the lack of a systematic approach to assessing patients for home glucagon prescriptions as a major barrier. The team implemented 2 successive interventions. First, intake staff indicated whether patients lacked an active glucagon prescription on patients’ face sheets. Second, clinical pharmacists reviewed patient prescriptions prior to scheduled visits and pended glucagon orders for patients without active prescriptions. Of note, when a pharmacy pends an order, the pharmacist enters an order into the electronic health record (EHR) but does not sign it. The order is saved for a provider to later access and sign. A statistical process control p-chart tracked monthly prescription rates.
Results: After 7 months, glucagon prescription rates increased from a baseline of 59% to 72% as the new steady state.
Conclusion: This project demonstrates that a series of interventions can improve glucagon prescription rates for patients at risk for hypoglycemia. The project’s success stemmed from combining an EHR-generated report and interdisciplinary staff members’ involvement. Other endocrinology clinics may incorporate this approach to implement similar processes and improve glucagon prescription rates.
Keywords: diabetes, hypoglycemia, glucagon, quality improvement, prescription rates, medical student.
Hypoglycemia limits the management of blood glucose in patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM). Severe hypoglycemia, characterized by altered mental status (AMS) or physical status requiring assistance for recovery, can lead to seizure, coma, or death.1 Hypoglycemia in diabetes often occurs iatrogenically, primarily from insulin therapy: 30% to 40% of patients with T1DM and 10% to 30% of patients with insulin-treated type 2 diabetes mellitus experience severe hypoglycemia in a given year.2 One study estimated that nearly 100,000 emergency department visits for hypoglycemia occur in the United States per year, with almost one-third resulting in hospitalization.3
Most patients self-treat mild hypoglycemia with oral intake of carbohydrates. However, since hypoglycemia-induced nausea and AMS can make oral intake more difficult or prevent it entirely, patients require a treatment that family, friends, or coworkers can administer. Rescue glucagon, prescribed as intramuscular injections or intranasal sprays, raises blood glucose to safe levels in 10 to 15 minutes.4 Therefore, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends glucagon for all patients at risk for hypoglycemia, especially patients with T1DM.5Despite the ADA’s recommendation, current evidence suggests suboptimal glucagon prescription rates, particularly in patients with T1DM. One study reported that, although 85% of US adults with T1DM had formerly been prescribed glucagon, only 68% of these patients (57.8% overall) had a current prescription.4 Few quality improvement efforts have tackled increasing prescription rates. Prior successful studies have attempted to do so via pharmacist-led educational interventions for providers6 and via electronic health record (EHR) notifications for patient risk.7 The project described here aimed to expand upon prior studies with a quality improvement project to increase glucagon prescription rates among patients at risk for severe hypoglycemia.