At the Visalia Oak Health Center, doctors know all about diabetic patients even before examining them.
A computer tracking system alerts doctors to a patient's health needs. They know if the patient is due for a foot exam to check for nerve damage, an eye test to look at blood vessels or laboratory work to measure blood-glucose levels.
It doesn't matter if the patient is there for something else — a cough, cold or backache. The diabetes registry tells the doctor what diabetes care the patient needs.
"The goal is to prevent the progression of diabetes complications," said Erik Persell, a physician's assistant.
This is the type of program that could help bring the diabetes epidemic under control, health experts say. But the high cost of expanding programs has been a barrier. The very scope of the problem is daunting.
Diabetes is a societal disease. The fight can't be confined to treating one patient at a time. It's a battle against obesity, poverty, a doctor shortage, urban sprawl — factors found in abundance in the Valley.
"We've got to make people realize this is not simply just poor eating behaviors, poor lifestyle choices," said Rudy Ortiz, a UC Merced professor who studies obesity and diabetes. "There are issues in the workplace, in the community, in the schools that all contribute to this."
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