Ask anyone who has experienced living with diabetes. It’s a disease that can take a huge toll physically, emotionally and mentally.
So how do you tackle a national health epidemic that’s on the rise, affects 1.7 million Australians and may be undiagnosed in 500,000 more? Type 2 diabetes accounts for over a million of those living with the disease, and it has a direct impact on their quality of life, mental health and life expectancy. Worryingly, the trend is for more and more young Australians, including children and teens, to be affected. It’s not overstating the case to define it as a major national health challenge.
As a GP who has seen the sometimes devastating impacts of this chronic disease first-hand, Dr Jo-Anne Manski-Nankervis started with a focus on the relationship that is critical to early detection and treatment.
‘With over a million people in Australia with type 2 diabetes, the majority of these patients receive their care in general practice, yet a lot of research is not done within the general practice setting,’ she says. ‘That can create questions such as “Is the research relevant to the type of people who receive treatment in general practice?”’
Dr Manski-Nankervis undertook research to look at how the frontline GP practice could make a real difference to the lives of people living with type 2 diabetes.
After gathering data from general practice and associated healthcare services, Dr Manski-Nankervis trialled a pioneering program called ‘Stepping Up’. The program involved up-skilling GPs and practice nurses in recognising at-risk patients and initiating insulin treatments at an earlier stage. A key aspect of the trial was mentoring the GPs involved, supplying the training and information so they could confidently provide early intervention in their practices.
The results have been overwhelmingly positive, showing substantial improvements in glycaemic control amongst patients involved in the trial.
Of course, it is well recognised that many lifestyle factors contribute to type 2 diabetes, and Associate Professor Peter Schattner took as his research focus the role of the GP in preventative care. His RACGP Foundation research looked at how to resource the GP to become a real partner in behaviour change with their at-risk patients, being proactive and linking them into structured programs before this debilitating disease took hold.
‘The kind of research that’s required … is based on the ability of GPs to intervene in some way that alters lifestyle and risk factors for these patients,’ he says.
Associate Professor Schattner’s research found this preventative role, making it easier for patients to access effective lifestyle programs, could be a critical one in reversing the spread of type 2 diabetes. And Diabetes Australia CEO Greg Johnson agrees:
‘Diabetes is the single biggest challenge facing Australia’s health system and research into how to best prevent and manage the condition is critical to meeting the challenge. We are committed to supporting and funding research and working with partners like the RACGP Foundation to ensure Australian diabetes researchers are leading the way’.
Through RACGP Foundation grants, Associate Professor Schattner and Dr Manski-Nankervis are adding valuable knowledge and insights that are impacting GP practice right around the country.
We're always looking for partners who want to create a healthier Australia. To find out more about the RACGP Foundation's work, or how you can partner with us to create a healthier Australia, visit foundation.racgp.org.au/foundation
Quotes from Drs Manski-Nankervis and Schattner used within this story have been sourced from the article ‘Further Investigation’ Good Practice March 2017 issue 3. All other quotes from www.diabetesaustralia.com.au
Thanks to our funding partner Diabetes Australia.
Dr Jo-Anne Manski-Nankervis
RACGP/Diabetes Australia Research Grant 2014
RACGP/IPN Medical Centres Research Grant 2012
Associate Professor Peter Schattner
RACGP/Diabetes Australia Research Grant 2015