Addressing diabetes: a dual approach
The rate of diabetes in Australia has tripled in the last 25 years. At HCF, we’re tackling this issue by investing in research and providing access to tailored health management programs.
Updated November 2021
Diabetes is a group of conditions in which your body can’t maintain healthy levels of glucose (a type of sugar) in your blood. The amount of glucose in your blood is controlled by the hormone insulin which moves glucose out of your blood and into your cells for energy after you’ve eaten. If you have diabetes, your body is either not making enough insulin or producing none at all.
Diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia: 10% of diabetes cases are due to an autoimmune reaction to insulin (known as type 1 diabetes); 85% are due to a progressive resistance to insulin (known as type 2 diabetes) and 5% are gestational (related to pregnancy) diabetes. All types of diabetes are increasing in prevalence.
Approximately 1.2 million adults in Australia are registered as having type 1 or 2 diabetes but the actual number is likely to be much higher as this figure doesn’t include people with silent, undiagnosed type 2 diabetes (also known as pre-diabetes).
At HCF we’re working on multiple fronts to support people with, or at risk of, diabetes and to promote more effective, efficient treatment within the healthcare system.
HCF Research Foundation
Each year the HCF Research Foundation aims to commit $2 million from investment income towards research that will benefit all Australians through improvements in health service provision and patient support. Since the Foundation’s inception in 2000, it’s contributed $50 million to research.
Associate Professor Sarah Dennis and her team from UNSW, received funding from the Research Foundation in 2013. The project aims to better understand the 1 million hospital admissions a year in Australia where diabetes is listed as the main reason for admission, or is cited as a contributory factor. HCF data reflects this prevalence: in 2016 1 in 10 HCF members who were admitted to hospital had type 1 or 2 diabetes.
“In terms of the burden on our health system, and on people, it’s a huge problem,” Associate Professor Dennis says.
Focusing on type 2 diabetes, her team developed sophisticated algorithms to collect de-identified patient information from GPs and hospitals. This data was then linked and analysed in an attempt to understand the indicators that put patients at risk of hospital admissions.
“We were looking to see that if you go to the GP regularly, and do all of the things you’re supposed to do, does that protect you from getting admitted to hospital?” Associate Professor Dennis says.
Their Research Foundation grant enabled the team to establish the data linking work and develop the algorithms which now form the base of the ongoing project. Associate Professor Dennis’ work is being continued in south-west Sydney by Professor Teng Liaw from UNSW.
Initial findings from the ongoing study and current literature suggest that that patient age, receiving regular GP care, taking multiple medications, other chronic health problems, and diabetes complications may be some of the key reasons which contribute to someone with type 2 diabetes being admitted to hospital.
“As we understand the data more and as the quality of the data – particularly from the general practice side – improves, the ability to use the information to predict admissions will be enhanced,” Associate Professor Dennis says.
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