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Call centres for patients with diabetes could help GPs hit their quality targets while coping with the surging incidence of the disease, a new study concludes.

Trained non-medical telephonists supported by a diabetes nurse were able to significantly improve glycaemic control in patients with type-2 diabetes.

A randomised controlled trial of 508 patients found reductions in HbA1c were 0.31 percentage points greater in patients supported by a call centre than in usual care controls.

In patients with a baseline HbA1c of more than 7 per cent, call centre support reduced glycaemic levels by 0.49 points more than usual care.

Under the system, telephonists contacted patients proactively and offered them dietary and exercise advice.

Those whose glycaemic levels were not properly controlled were referred to a specialist diabetes nurse for individual management.

Jean Taylor, diabetes nurse and researcher on the study at Hope Hospital in Salford, said the system allowed non-medical staff to undertake work 'GPs wouldn't have time to do'.

She added: 'Patient satisfaction was huge. Because they trusted the telecarers and listened to them it improved their overall control.'

Salford PCT has now decided to commission the service on a permanent basis.

Dr Minesh Patel, a GP in East Grinstead, West Sussex, who has run a diabetes clinic for five years, said the approach could help GPs cope with the dramatic increase in the number of patients with type 2 diabetes expected in the near future.

He welcomed the flexibility of the system and said: 'This is not a bad approach at all.'

Among patients supported by the call centre, 10 per cent overall and 15 per cent of those with a baseline HbA1c of more than 7 per cent achieved a 1 per cent fall or greater in HbA1c levels.

A total of 27 quality points are available for glycaemic control targets in the quality framework, with a maximum of 16 for reducing HbA1c levels to 7.4 or less.

The Proactive Call Centre Treatment Support study was published in Diabetes Care this month.

The Proactive Call Centre Treatment

Support study ­ how it worked

·Researchers contacted GPs to request access to diabetes patients from their lists

·Of 508 patients, 332 were assigned to the call centre group and 176 to usual care

·Trained, non-medical telephonists contacted patients in intervention group proactively ­

they offered patients dietary and exercise advice and monitored glycaemic control

·Patients with poor control were referred to a specialist diabetes nurse ­ nurse altered medication as appropriate and wrote to GPs to inform them of changes

By Cato Pedder

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