More than 25 million Americans live with diabetes. Many of those patients struggle with adherence, lifestyle changes and self-care, which prevent them from getting their disease under control. As a community pharmacist, you have an opportunity to go beyond just helping diabetic patients when they visit your pharmacy. You can educate more people living with diabetes—and attract new patients—by hosting diabetes education classes in your community.
Tim Mitchell, R.Ph., owner of three community pharmacies and a medical equipment store in Neosho, Mo., first started hosting a diabetes support group in 1997. He saw a need for more diabetes education in his community and decided to do something about it. “I knew there were support groups in hospitals and things like that, but at least in my area there weren’t any pharmacies heading up something like this,” Mitchell said.
The group, which came to be called the Neosho Area Diabetes Support Group, started with just five people who needed questions answered about their diabetes and who wanted to tell their stories. The group would meet monthly at a church to talk with each other and to listen to Mitchell and other guest health practitioners speak.
“The people in the group were excited about sharing their ideas and the trials and tribulations of being a diabetic with others in the community,” Mitchell said. “Suddenly the group grew to 20, 25, 30 people. It blew me away.”
Making diabetes education a success
Mitchell isn’t afraid to try new things when it comes to educating people about diabetes. As participation in the support group fluctuated over the years, Mitchell began to organize different types of events to get people interested, including culinary classes, peer-to-peer sessions, and blood glucose testing at the local senior citizens center.
The best way to make a diabetes education program a success, he said, is to form partnerships with others. “It helps keep the costs down. Plus, if you can get others to market for you, then they’re helping spread the word about the good work you’re doing in your pharmacy and you’re going to get referrals,” he said.
“I would highly recommend that any pharmacist who wants to do a program in their store hook up with a diabetes educator or a nurse who has worked in the area, or even a physician,” he said. “Physicians might be interested in coming to speak periodically about new things they’re seeing with diabetes patients.”
Mitchell also recommended working with the drug reps in your area. “Sanofi’s brought more credibility to our stores by offering some good literature,” Mitchell said. “These companies can promote their products, but they also have free diabetes educational material that you can use.”
Increasing business with diabetes education
“Many pharmacists will think that they don’t have time to do it,” Mitchell said. “But that’s like saying you don’t have time to market to patients and bring more diabetes patients into your store. Because that’s what you’re doing; you’re marketing.”
It’s an investment that has paid off well for Mitchell. Offering diabetes educational opportunities has brought in 10 to 15 percent more patients to his pharmacies.
“The average diabetes patient brings a lot of dollars to the table in a pharmacy,” he said. “So all of that marketing that you do in a diabetes education class will come back tenfold whenever they come back to do their other business with you. And they’ll bring their family business as well.”
You can make sure these patients keep returning to your pharmacy by stocking the diabetic supplies they need. “If you don’t carry the products for the patients, they’re not going to come back to you,” Mitchell said.
“I give away free meters at the classes and then make sure people understand how to use them, and they’ll usually come back to me,” he said. “I think most of the patients would say, ‘I’m going to pay somebody for these products. I’d rather it be somebody who cares about me versus a chain or mail order that doesn’t have a clue who I am.’”
Obstacles to expect when starting out
After more than 15 of years of providing diabetes education, Mitchell knows that it’s not always easy for busy pharmacists.
“Time is a big thing,” he said. “It’s difficult to do if you’re a one-pharmacist operation and can’t get away from the bench to do a class.”
Mitchell’s advice is to use what you have. If your pharmacy is a rotation site for students, let your students teach a class. And, get your pharmacists involved if you can.
“All of my pharmacists help out,” Mitchell said. “I involve them in these teaching opportunities because nobody in the pharmacy realm wants to sit and count pills and handle insurance problems all day long. My pharmacists really enjoy getting out into the community and spending a little time doing some positive things.”
Diabetes Education Event Ideas for Pharmacies
Tim Mitchell, R.Ph., suggests using the following programs and events to get your diabetic patients excited to learn more about living healthy with diabetes. Mitchell has hosted diabetes education events at his pharmacies in Neosho, Mo., for more than 15 years.
A1C Champions® Diabetes Education Program
Help your patients manage their diabetes like pros when you host an A1C Champions Diabetes Education Program sponsored by Sanofi-Aventis. “Sanofi trains diabetic patients who are managing their diabetes well to come in and do speaking engagements for patients who may be struggling,” Mitchell said “It’s peer support.” He has hosted four of these events, each one featuring a different speaker. Learn more about the program at a1cchampions.com.
For this free program, Novo Nordisk provides a certified diabetes educator to teach a class at your pharmacy about managing diabetes. “They pay for the program. We do the invitations and we’re sponsoring it, but we get the benefit of having the education done in our facility,” Mitchell said. “It’s a nice thing for us to offer, and I can tell you, people in our community really appreciate it.”
Diabetes Food Tour
Partner with a diabetes educator and a local grocery store to host a diabetes food tour. It works like this. A small group of patients meet at a local grocery store where a diabetes educator explains how to read food labels and offers healthy eating tips.
“They’ll all grab a cart and go walking down the aisles,” Mitchell said. “They’ll pull things off the shelf and say, ‘This is what I normally buy, is this a good item?’ Or, ‘Would it be better to buy this item?’ A lot of people really enjoy that direct contact with a diabetes educator. It’s a different setting than just sitting in an office talking about what they should be eating.”
If you partner with an independent grocery store, the store manager will likely be happy to help you out. “Typically the store manager will provide healthy snacks, like fruit or sugar-free items,” Mitchell said. “They’ll give away coupons to increase sales and get people in the store. It works out well for everyone.”
Healthy Eating Classes
Partner with a diabetes educator or a dietician to host healthy eating classes for diabetic patients. Once a month Mary McCreery, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator, cooks a healthy meal in the kitchen of Mitchell’s medical equipment store. Patients pay $40 and she provides food samples and helpful tips on eating well. In a recent class, McCreery made a few different dishes with apples. “There was an apple soup, an apple quesadilla. Just some different ideas that use healthy alternatives instead of things that are going to clog your arteries,” Mitchell said.
The Sweet Spot
The Sweet Spot program provides pharmacies with the curriculum to teach a diabetes education class every month. Patient handouts, physician letters, flyers and other marketing materials are included with the program. “What’s really great about it is that it focuses specifically on how pharmacists can help diabetic patients,” Mitchell said. “The presentations show diabetic patients what pharmacists can do to help move them in the right direction and make their condition better.” Learn more about the program at creativepharmacist.com.
Senior Center Days
Make it easy for older patients to join in by holding a simple diabetes education class at your town’s senior center. “We head over there during their lunch and do some blood glucose testing and we’ll talk a little bit about diabetes,” Mitchell said. “We always have handouts and we always have goodies to give to people to keep their interest.”