Tuesday, 7 February 2012

To attend clinic or not to attend it - but is that really the question?

A short article, published in the latest issue of Diabetic Medicine (the professional journal of Diabetes UK), describes research into whether young adults in the UK choose to attend their clinic appointments or not. The authors looked at records of attendance and also interviewed 17 young people about what influenced whether they attended or not. 

The results showed that, rather than might be expected, having ‘poor control’ (defined as having a high HbA1c level), made it less likely that people would attend, because of the fear of being judged by health professionals. Another major reason for not going to clinic was literally not being able to get there because of work or study commitments, including the attitudes of employers to taking time off for health-related appointments. The authors conclude that health professionals need to be more supportive and non judgemental, and also that reminders about appointments and flexible clinic hours are factors which will encourage people to attend more.

That sounds fairly straightforward, doesn’t it? Or does it? Sending a text or email reminder is a good idea and a very simple task, but does simply knowing about an appointment mean that people will attend it? The decision-making sounds much more complex than that, given the information about potentially feeling judged. In our experience, this complexity is not confined to young adults and whether to attend is often based on what the answers might be to questions such as these:

‘I already know my glucose levels have been high recently - will I hear bad news?’
‘Do I trust them enough to tell them how bad things are at home at the moment?’
‘Can I deal with MORE criticism right now?’

And even when things are going well, the questions or thoughts might include:

‘Is it a good use of my day off, to wait for ages, just to be told to come back in 6 months and keep up the good work?’
‘It’s a welcome break not to have to think about it all at the moment while things are going well’

On the other hand, health professionals pride themselves on being available to help people who are struggling and of course, know very well the potential negative outcomes of not attending clinic appointments or having longstanding raised glucose levels. Some health professionals, such as GPs, are actually paid higher amounts of money if people in their care have better diabetes  (measured by HbA1c). They often genuinely worry about people who don’t attend and also become frustrated about empty appointments that could have been used for other people, and other upsets to the ‘system’. It’s no surprise in a way that a judgemental attitude can creep in, although most health professionals would be horrified to think they were being seen in that light.

So the real question is, How can we achieve success with lifelong attendance at clinic visits without damaging the delicate mix of emotions, self esteem and ‘having a life’ for both people with diabetes AND health professionals? Here are a few ideas of what could happen, which both people with diabetes and health professionals could influence:

·      Start as you mean to go on, with a view that a consultation is a partnership, not a dictatorship. You are working together on the ‘diabetes project’ that is everyday life with diabetes for the person with it
·      Build in a bit of preparation for the consultation, for example, the person with diabetes requesting or being offered the chance to see their test results before they attend, so that they can decide what aspects they want to discuss. Also, considering their own priorities and questions for the visit
·      Starting every consultation with a discussion of how the person with diabetes is feeling and thinking and what questions they have, rather than with what the health professionals think. This way of doing things is known to increase satisfaction and attendance rates
·      Thinking of the person with diabetes as a person rather than a patient, and a health professional as a supporter (and also a person!) rather than an authority figure. Terminology, as we explored in an earlier blog, can make a huge difference to attitude and relationships
·      Finally, recognise that there is always a reason for the way people behave. Having some curiosity and care, and being brave enough to explore what is keeping people away from clinics, or why the relationship between health professional and person with diabetes doesn’t seem to be working, could make a vast difference to the future.

What do you think of these ideas – and how does all this fit with your experiences of either providing or receiving care in a diabetes clinic system?

Snow, R., Fulop, N. (2012). Understanding issues associated with attending a young adult diabetes clinic: a case study. Diabetic Medicine, 29,2, 257-259