New effort to fight diabetes in Sonoma County

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Sonoma County medical providers are taking aggressive steps to deal with the high rate of patients with diabetes admitted to local hospitals, a trend that is said to be driving up hospital costs.

In Sonoma County, patients with diabetes account for almost 26 percent of all local hospital admissions, according to a recent UCLA analysis of 2011 hospital patient discharge data. That’s a total of 7,459 hospital admissions.

The added cost of hospital care is estimated at $16.4 million, according to the study, which was conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research with support from the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

“We are very concerned about the epidemic of diabetes and the toll that it takes on individuals and the system that cares for them,” said Karen Holbrook, the county’s deputy public health officer.

Holbrook said diabetic patients who are admitted to local hospitals pose more medical complications than those who are not diabetic and often require more tests and treatments. Severe diabetes often results in serious medical conditions such as liver disease and kidney failure, she said.

According to the UCLA study, 31 percent of the state’s hospitalized patients 35 years or older, the age group that accounts for most hospitalizations, had diabetes. The study estimated that the added cost to hospitals in California was $1.6 billion. Hospital stays for diabetic patients in the state cost an average of $2,200 more than for non-diabetic patients, according to the study.

The study’s authors pointed out that 75 percent of this care is covered by Medicare and Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. Medi-Cal alone pays $254 million in added costs for diabetic patients.