Guidance for Practicing Primary Care

Recommendations for improving federal diabetes programs: How primary care clinicians can help with implementation


Recently the National Clinical Care Commission provided recommendations to Congress for improving federal diabetes programs in a report. This commission was put together after Congress passed the National Clinical Care Commission Act in 2017.

The report provides a wide range of recommendations that look to combat and prevent diabetes at many levels. An exciting aspect of the recommendations is that they consider how all agencies, including those that are not specifically health care, can fight diabetes. As primary care physicians are increasingly looking at all aspects of our patients’ lives to improve their health, these recommendations provide support for the work on which we are currently embarking.

Dr. Santina J. G. Wheat, associate professor of family and community medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago

Dr. Santina J.G. Wheat

The report acknowledges that many recent advances in diabetes treatments have made huge differences for clinicians and patients alike. Unfortunately, they have not been translated quickly into practice and when they have been, there have been disparities in the rollouts.

The document also states that many other factors, including housing, health care access, and food access, greatly affect the prevention and control of diabetes, according to a paper published in Annals of Internal Medicine. These factors have led to significant disparities in the population impacted by diabetes.

The topic areas of the recommendations include federal programs and policies; population-level programs to prevent diabetes, facilitate treatments, and promote health equity; type 2 diabetes prevention; insurance coverage; diabetes care delivery; and diabetes research.

Supporting recommendations in clinics

Family physicians, internists, and pediatricians can directly support many of the recommendations in their clinics. For those recommendations that are not directed at primary care clinics specifically, physicians should provide advocacy for their implementation.

If implemented, some of these recommendations will allow primary care physicians to improve at providing treatments to their patients for diabetes prevention and treatment of the disease. For example, the recommendations call for requirements of insurance companies to cover screening for prediabetes with the use of hemoglobin A1c and the participation in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–recognized diabetes prevention programs.

The recommendations also call for the requirement of high-value diabetes services and treatment to be covered predeductible by insurers. If more consistently covered by insurers, it would be easier for us to implement these opportunities including educational groups in our practices. Additionally, if they were available predeductible, we could recommend these to our patients with less worry about cost.

Within care delivery recommendations, they also highlight the importance of an adequate and sustainable team to enhance care for patients with diabetes. Many of us know that it takes more than just the medications, but also significant counseling on diet, exercise and other lifestyle aspects – which need to be tailored to each patient for both prevention and treatment of diabetes.

The recommendations also call for the education and treatment modalities to be able to be provided and covered via virtual methods, while potentially increasing physicians’ ability to provide and patients’ ability to access. Ensuring both the workforce is available and that insurance provides coverage would make these programs accessible to so many more physician offices and ultimately patients.

Importance of social factors

As stated earlier, one of the great aspects of this report is its acknowledgment of the importance of social factors on the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

The report recommends expanding housing opportunities for low-income individuals as individuals cannot focus on their health when worried about housing. It also recommends increasing assistance with programs focused on food security. Primary care physicians should advocate for the adoption of these and other recommendations, because of the potentially meaningful impact these changes could have.

Ensuring adequate housing and access to healthy food would go a long way in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. If there are increases in these resources, team members within primary care physician offices would be wonderful allies to help direct patients to these resources. As these concerns may be top of mind for some patients, linking patients to these resources in the physician’s office may reinforce for patients that physicians understand our patients’ biggest concerns.

Ultimately, if the sweeping recommendations in this report are adopted and enforced, it could mean significant improvements for many patients at risk for and living with diabetes. They would provide payment for these resources making them more accessible for patients and physicians alike.

Dr. Wheat is a family physician at Erie Family Health Center and program director of Northwestern University’s McGaw Family Medicine residency program, both in Chicago. Dr. Wheat serves on the editorial advisory board of Family Practice News. You can contact her at

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