Regular Wellness Visits Decrease Risk of Amputation in Those with Diabetes

For those living with diabetes, there are many health metrics that need to be tracked. Those include A1C levels, ACR levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Getting to the doctor regularly can help ensure a patient is on top of their health. A new study finds that such doctor visits could also help patients avoid amputations.

Researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and their colleagues have been examining the impact of free annual Medicare wellness visits on patients with diabetes. They shared their findings at the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions in early June in New Orleans. Focusing on counties with the highest rates of diabetes across the nation, the team found that patients who take advantage of the free exams are less likely to need an amputation.

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Jennifer Lobo, team member and researcher at UVA, says, “Our results confirmed our hypothesis that annual wellness visits are associated with a reduced risk of major lower-extremity amputations, highlighting the importance of connecting patients to preventive care services.”

The researchers used Medicare patient data from 2006 through 2015 in 644 counties in the south and Appalachian regions known as “The Diabetes Belt.” Patients in this area are 27% more likely to need a lower extremity amputation compared to neighboring counties, and they’re also less apt to have foot complications diagnosed.

However, patients in the Diabetes Belt who attend their annual wellness visit were found to have a 36% lower risk of needing an amputation.

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The team found other disparities, though, including that non-Hispanic Black diabetes patients, regardless of their location, are more apt to need a diabetes-related amputation than non-Hispanic white patients. The researchers say these findings show that policy changes may be needed to help patients access preventive care and to address disparities.

Lobo says, “While annual wellness visits are a free visit for qualified Medicare beneficiaries, additional incentives or resources to overcome systemic access to care barriers are needed to support patient attendance. Patient education about the value of annual wellness visits and preventive care could also help improve utilization of annual wellness visits, hopefully reducing the rate of major amputations.”

Other proposed options include more diabetes education in general and patient navigators.

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For information on how frequently you should participate in various health checks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention breaks the schedule down on their website.

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