When thinking about likely reasons for rushing to the emergency department (ED), severe low blood sugar may not come to mind. The data tells a different story. Low-blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, episodes are among the top three most common drug-related events that send Veterans to an ED.
Veterans can talk with their VA health care providers about the Hypoglycemia Safety Initiative (HSI), which offers simple tools to prevent such events. It can save Veterans the risk of developing more severe health problems, time at the hospital and money on medical bills.
HSI works with clinicians across federal agencies to educate patients who may be at risk of hypoglycemia. The program uses the Choosing Wisely theme to empower patients with tips for reading labels, counting carbohydrates and planning meals. The program may be particularly helpful for individuals who eat ready-made meals, such as MREs, or mess hall dining.
Emergency visits spike at the end of the month
VHA’s national director of endocrinology and program lead for HSI, Dr. Leonard Pogach, says that improving health literacy is the key to reducing hypoglycemia. “By knowing what the numbers mean and how to make changes based on the numbers, Veterans can control their symptoms.”
Food insecurity can also be a risk factor of hypoglycemic episodes when Veterans lack access to a stable, nutritious food supply. Data shows that ED visits for low blood sugar spike at the end of the month, when some Veterans run low on food supply or money for healthier meals.
HSI teamed up with food-pantry initiatives at VHA to further strengthen its Choosing Wisely approach. The Red Bag Project out of a Cleveland-area medical center color-codes its bags of groceries to flag those that include special supplies for Veterans diagnosed with diabetes. Included in the bags are tips for managing diabetes, budget-friendly recipes and information on other resources.
Red Bag Project coordinator Mary Julius encourages Veterans to be open when VHA care teams ask about their food situations.
“I remember one Veteran who used to be a stockbroker. When I asked him about food, he put his head in his hands. ‘All my assets are frozen,’ he said, mentioning divorce. ‘I’ve tried to sell things. But I have no food.’ Through HSI, I was able to provide him with a bag of groceries. I also linked him with social services to reduce the risk of future serious hypoglycemic events.”
Click on these links for more valuable information
Food security is a social determinant of health. It is an environmental contributor to one’s overall well-being. VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) has prioritized six social determinants for this year’s Community Partnership Challenge, in recognition of the role that some of these contributors can play in Veteran health.
Through its programs and community partnerships, VHA is helping Veterans in support of whole health. Veterans are learning about healthy food options, diabetes management and community resources.
For more information about HSI, visit https://www.qualityandsafety.va.gov/ChoosingWiselyHealthSafetyInitiative/HypoglycemiaSite/Frequently_Asked_Questions_for_Veterans.asp.
For more information about OCE’s partnership work, visit https://www.va.gov/HEALTHPARTNERSHIPS/partnerships.asp.
Dr. Tracy Weistreich is acting director of the VHA Office of Community Engagement (OCE).