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Erin Hemme-Froslie, Published September 12 2007

Diabetes program gets national recognition

A local pilot program designed to improve the health of diabetics received national recognition for its approach to disease management.

Patients in the program controlled their blood sugar better and had fewer emergency room visits and hospital stays, said Dr. John Rice, chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

The program, a partnership between Blue Cross Blue Shield and Fargo-based MeritCare Health System, won a 2007 BlueWorks award, which recognizes best health care practices among the nation’s Blues plans.

Specially trained nurses worked with patients to set health goals and regularly followed up with them by phone, said Dr. Rhonda Ketterling of MeritCare.

About 200 patients participated in the yearlong program.

It cost $500 less per patient to treat those in the pilot program, said Mike Unhjem, president and CEO of the North Dakota Blues. That is significant because chronic diseases like diabetes account for about 40 percent of health care costs, he said.

The model will be expanded to include about 2,000 MeritCare patients with diabetes, coronary artery disease or hypertension.

The BlueWorks award is given by Harvard Medical School’s Department of Health Care Policy and the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534