A new study published in the JAMA Network by UI Health staff found hundreds of unsuspecting patients had diabetes and prediabetes, that left untreated could lead to major complications down the road.
“What’s novel about this is that we’re conducting a preventative health screening within our emergency department. So most people that are coming to the emergency department are not coming in because they want to be screened. But we also know that diabetes is of high prevalence within our community,” Dr. Janet Lin said, an ER physician who helped implement the diabetes screenings.
For three months starting in February 2021, UI Health randomly screened more than 2,000 ER patients who met criteria for a diabetes screening.
Of the 2,074 screened, 52.3% had an abnormal A1C result. A stunning number, but that isn’t what shocked doctors the most.
“70% of the people that basically had an abnormal test, in aggregate, did not know that they were either prediabetic, or diabetic,” Dr. Lin said.
Of those 1,085 patients with abnormal results, 69.9% were prediabetic and 30.1% were diabetic. Among those patients, 62 had severe diabetes, which could be life-threatening.
“If it goes uncontrolled, it will lead to a lot of complications that include stroke, heart attacks, kidney failure, loss of limbs, loss of vision,” Dr. Lin said.
Dr. Lin and the study authors say this should be a wake up call that diabetes screenings are important, and often consist of a simple blood test.
The American Diabetes Association recommends anyone over the age of 45 be screened for diabetes every three years. People between the ages of 18-44, with a BMI greater than 25, which is an indication of obesity, should also be screened every three years as well.
UI Health has continued the diabetes screening beyond the pilot study that lasted three months and they’re seeing similar results. On average, they are diagnosing 300 people every month with prediabetes or diabetes, through the emergency room screenings.
When coordinators called one of the first patients who was found to have prediabetes, Dr. Janet Lin said he answered the phone right away and was very surprised by the results.
“He said, “What?” And he’s like, you know, I’m in line at the McDonald’s. I was just about to buy a Big Mac or some other thing. He’s like, I am not going to get a Big Mac, please tell me how I can actually help change my lifestyle,” Dr. Lin said.
Patients are referred for further care, a win for the medical community that is working hard to fight what is often called a silent disease.
“This is an opportunity for us to be able to screen for people that might not otherwise get screened,” Dr. Lin said.