by Deirdre Wheat, M.D., Medical Director, Quality, Disease & Case Management at Independent Health

According to a local Population Health Collaborative study released in 2019, 11.4% of people in the Buffalo-Niagara region have diabetes compared to the national rate of 8.7%. The region also has the highest rate of diabetes compared to nine peer metro areas. The rates of prediabetes alarm health experts, as well. More than one in three adults, or 88 million Americans, have prediabetes. However, more than 84% of people with prediabetes don’t even know they have it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) about 90% to 95% of diabetes cases are categorized as Type 2 diabetes, which may be preventable.

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found control over blood sugar and blood pressure has declined among people with diabetes after years of progress, indicating diabetic complications may be set to rise among Americans in the future.

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed added importance on prevention and management, as individuals with diabetes infected with Covid-19 face an increased risk of death or serious complications.

In addition to added health risks, the Population Health Collaborative study also found among the commercially insured, individuals with diabetes generate an average of $15,821 in medical spending per year – a cost borne in many cases by the individual and their health insurer, which can translate to higher costs for businesses. Buffalo Niagara’s total incremental medical costs from diabetes are $200.4 million per year – which ultimately affect insurance premiums.

Chronic diseases like diabetes also lead to costs in the workplace. The annual costs of employee absenteeism due to diabetes alone range from $1,621 for small companies to $17,000 for larger organizations.

So, what can we do to prevent diabetes and prediabetes, help people manage their disease, and control health care costs for the benefit of individuals and businesses?


A survey by Virgin Pulse found 85% of companies say wellness programs support employee engagement. However, encouraging participation among employees can be resource intensive. That’s where a mobile app tied to a corporate wellness program can help, making it easier for employees to track wellness activity, join challenges and ultimately engage employees in managing their health. Health insurance companies, including Independent Health, offer a range of apps and web-based resources to help members attain health and fitness goals.

Providing employees tools at their fingertips can help those with diabetes and prediabetes better manage their care. For example, Brook+, an enhanced offering of the Brook Health Companion app, offered free to Independent Health members, can help people at risk prevent type 2 diabetes. About 88% of users say Brook+ helps them achieve their personal health goals. Another helpful tool, Foodsmart, promotes healthy eating  with its highly personalized, digital platform that provides telenutrition service and the largest national network of registered dietitians.

Medication education & management

Promoting education around the effectiveness of generic prescriptions for diabetes treatment and management reduces costs. Lower cost generic drugs have a proven track record of helping patients achieve a glycosylated hemoglobin (A1C) of seven percent or less (a common goal for individuals with diabetes). Reducing the use of brand-name medications can eliminate costly treatments that don’t add value.

In addition to having routine screenings, including blood tests, and maintaining control of co-existing medical conditions, medication adherence is central to keeping people healthy and reducing the risk of costly diabetes complications. For example, Independent Health’s Medication Therapy Management (MTM) pharmacists work directly with members to address medication adherence issues, including cost, and provide education. Due to these efforts, diabetes drug adherence among Independent Health members increased in 2019 from 86.9% to 89%, saving individual members an average of $360 per year.

Though the prevalence of diabetes in our region continues to rise, collaborative efforts and employee engagement continue to provide unique and important opportunities for individuals to lead healthy lifestyles, reduce risk factors, and combat this disease.