California health programs try to slow progression of diabetes

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."

Read the complete story at