March 12, 2014

Meth. or Insulin

“This is rather startling.” 

That was the opening paragraph of an email I received yesterday from Jeff Hitchcock. He’s not easily startled. What had caught his attention was a JAMA paper titled, “National Estimates of Insulin-Related Hypoglycemia and Errors Leading to Emergency Department Visits and Hospitalizations.”

Just like the title says, the paper estimates Emergency Room visits for what is called IHEs or insulin-related hypoglycemia and errors. The authors’ figure is 97,648 IFEs annually, of which 29% result in hospitalization. 

Jeff had started totaling up the costs of all those visits. Emails like this make me think he likes to spin me up. Like I need help?

I found an article that puts the prices on these in another journal. The American Journal of Managed Care. There is a group that is going to be super geeky about costs, right? In, "The Incidence and Costs of Hypoglycemia in Type 2 Diabetes" they say, “costs for hypoglycemia visits were $17,564 for an inpatient admission, $1387 for an ED visit.” (remember ED here being Emergency Department, not the blue pill problem.) 

Easy enough to take the number of visits and multiply it out by the costs and - Son-Of-A...hypos are estimated to cost about $640 million a year

The JAMA piece goes on to say these IHEs are far more likely to be the elderly. “Insulin-treated patients 80 years or older were more than twice as likely to visit the ED and nearly 5 times as likely to be subsequently hospitalized for IHEs than those 45 to 64 years.” These are they very people who can’t get continuous glucose monitors (CGM) to help warn of hypos, because Medicare says CGMs are not medically necessary. 

I can think of over half a billion reasons why maybe they are needed.

Beyond the money, the JAMA piece says, “Severe neurologic sequelae* were documented in an estimated 60.6% of ED visits for IHEs, and blood glucose levels of 50 mg/dL or less were recorded in more than half of cases (53.4%).” (*I had to look sequelae up too. Thanks wikipedia, “Typically, a sequela is a chronic condition that is a complication of an acute condition that begins during that acute condition.”) So translating that here: Chronic neurologic conditions as a result of the acute event, aka hypos are, disproportionally hitting American seniors. 

That just ain’t right.  

Look at it this way, (I swear this is the citation I’ll drag out) says, “stimulants, including amphetamines and methamphetamine, were involved in 93,562 ED visits.”

Diabetes beats Breaking Bad.
97.8K ED visits for Team Insulin over 93.5k for Meth. et al.  

This is "rather startling." 

YDMV - so your term for what "This is ____" may be more colorful. I trust they will show up in the comments.