Collaborative Care in Practice

These examples are a selection of relatively recent studies that, in combination, show the diversity of team care in practice. The studies measure different endpoints, and few measure improved patient morbidity. They do, however, provide practical examples of collaborative care for diabetes prevention and management in a variety of practice settings with different professional team members. The examples are categorized by practice setting and health care professional involvement–and are in alphabetical order.

Practice Setting

Community settings

Partnerships between health care professionals, community organizations, and community members may help widen the reach of diabetes prevention services for people at high risk for diabetes, as well as of diabetes management programs.

The Building Community Supports for Diabetes Care program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Diabetes Initiative works through clinic-community partnerships. Several projects demonstrate how various clinic-community partnerships promote diabetes self-management better than any organization could do so alone. They are also real-world examples for the community involvement element of the chronic care model.1

Diabetes prevention in adults

In people at risk of developing diabetes with modifiable risk factors, low-cost, intensive lifestyle interventions delivered at YMCA facilities to modify eating and exercise behaviors have thus far shown promising results in reducing risk of diabetes. Trained community-based fitness instructors were able to deliver an effective group-based lifestyle intervention in YMCA settings to adults at high risk for diabetes.2 Pilot studies suggest that participants achieved weight loss similar to that achieved in the original Diabetes Prevention Program. Significant changes included decreased body weight and total cholesterol maintained over 12 months.3

Diabetes prevention in children

A three-armed randomized controlled clinical trial used trained extension workers to lead group sessions over 16 weeks for 93 overweight or obese children ages 8 to 14 (who were at risk for diabetes) and their families. Families were randomized into a behavioral family-based intervention, a behavioral parent-only intervention, or a wait-list control group. At the 10-month follow-up, children in both intervention groups had significantly greater decreases in body weight compared with the control group.4 A comparison of intervention costs showed that the total program costs for the parent-only and family interventions were $13,546 and $20,928, respectively. Total cost per child for the parent-only and family interventions were $521 and $872, respectively. The authors concluded that parent-only interventions may be cost-effective alternatives for pediatric obesity, especially for families in medically underserved settings.5

Diabetes management

Connecting with community health workers

Trained community health workers are playing an increasingly important role in bridging the gap between traditional health care systems and needed diabetes health care and education in underserved communities. Through their understanding of a community’s language, cultural beliefs and traditions, and barriers to care, community health workers can help health care professionals and their patients achieve more effective diabetes prevention and management and make better use of the health care system.6

(See CDC for a review of the capacities and contributions of community health workers.)

Peer support

There is growing interest in the role of peers as providers of on-going diabetes self-management support. Peer support links people living with diabetes who are able to share knowledge and experiences. Peer support can take many forms: phone calls, text messaging, group meetings, home visits, and shared activities. Peers can provide emotional, social, and practical assistance to help others manage their diabetes and stay healthy. Peers can help others with diabetes to

  • figure out how to manage diabetes in their daily lives
  • identify key resources for healthy foods or for physical activity
  • cope with social or emotional barriers
  • stay motivated to reach their goals
  • seek out clinical care as appropriate
  • stay engaged in diabetes self-care over the long term7

Receiving social support may contribute to self-efficacy, medication adherence, and improved self-reported health status. Peers who provide social support may experience less depression, heightened self-esteem and self-efficacy, and improved quality of life. 7

Managed care

A study of clinical outcomes in a large managed care population of adults with diabetes showed that compared to usual care, computer-supported care by a dedicated health care team appeared to reduce the number of hospitalizations and improve measurement rates for A1C, urinary protein, and serum lipid. Glycemic control and blood pressure control also improved.8

In a health maintenance organization’s pediatric diabetes self-management program, a nurse case manager and a multidisciplinary clinic team provided education and counseling to empower families to improve their child’s self-management of diabetes. The means of all measures of self-management improved, as did parents’ self-efficacy beliefs.9

In Arizona, six competing, capitated Medicare managed care plans collaborated with a peer review organization to improve outpatient diabetes team management for their members. One year after baseline measures were taken, there was significant improvement in most indicators. Mean A1C values fell from 8.9 percent to 7.9 percent; the proportion of patients with A1C values <8 percent rose from 40 percent to 62 percent; the use of ACE inhibitors increased by 69 percent; and the treatment of dyslipidemia improved from 16 percent to 40 percent. There was no significant improvement in lipid profiles.10

Multidisciplinary foot care clinics

A number of studies have reported that multidisciplinary foot care programs have successfully reduced lower-extremity amputation rates.11, 12, 13 Coordination of activities between various disciplines involved in diabetes-related foot care—including surgeons, medical specialists, podiatrists, diabetes educators, and orthotists—appears to be very important for lowering amputation rates.14

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA)

The VHA Prevention Amputation Care and Treatment Program (PACT) uses a multidisciplinary team approach to identify patients at risk for amputation, which include those with diabetes, end-stage renal disease, and peripheral vascular disease. Once identified, the program provides a mechanism to screen those “at-risk” veterans for foot risk factors in primary care clinics, and to provide timely and appropriate referral to specialists. The foot screening involves the

  • use of the 10gm monofilament to screen for loss of protective sensation
  • palpation of pedal pulses to screen for diminished arterial blood flow
  • inspection for foot deformities that often lead to foot ulcers

The program uses a series of unique databases to provide ongoing performance measurements (amputation levels and rates and ulcer types and rates, as well as data on patient demographics and “at-risk” and “high-risk” foot conditions). PACT monitors continuity information about clinic visits to primary care and foot care clinics to identify those at highest risk who may require additional outreach efforts.

In 2008, the nationwide compliance with the screening performance measure for the monofilament testing for veterans with diabetes was 88 percent. The amputation rates for people with diabetes have declined from 8.5 per 1,000 in 2001 to 4.2 per 1,000 in 2008 (see Veterans Affairs).

Primary care clinics

A small, rural primary care clinic that included a critical access hospital and a 25-provider physician group implemented care practices in 2006 that improved A1C values in all patients with type 2 diabetes. The clinic adopted practice guidelines with algorithms for care, and a pharmacist and dietitian provided diabetes self-management and counseling. A diabetes flowchart was used to track care and a registry maintained relevant data.15

A pilot study with six primary care providers in a rural practice introduced a diabetes nurse educator to work with the physicians and their patients with diabetes. Results showed improvement in patients’ knowledge and empowerment, and A1C and HDL values.16

Compared with care provided by the primary care physician alone, a nurse practitioner–physician team improved care to patients with hypertension and diabetes. In the team-treated group, one-year costs for personnel were modestly higher, but participants experienced significant improvements in mean A1C and HDL values and in satisfaction with care.17 A primary care physician in a large multi-specialty medical group introduced team care to his practice and improved quality-of-care indicators for patients with diabetes.18

Stepped diabetes management

In stepped care, the team assesses patients’ management concerns, skills, and resources and then sets education and treatment goals in collaboration with patients. Precise timelines are set for success with individual therapies. The team provides different steps or levels of treatment according to predetermined protocols until management goals are met and maintained. Combined evaluation data are generated for providers to compare changes in practice with baseline measures. This approach was tentatively estimated to generate lifetime savings of about $27,000 per patient after six to seven years when modeled with the costs of acute and chronic complications.19 More recently, in an academic family practice clinic, stepped care resulted in significant cost-neutral improvement in A1C values.20

Health Care Professional Involvement

Dental professional team members

Oral health care professionals play an important role as part of the health care team by providing oral care to patients with or at risk for diabetes. Glycemic control may exacerbate periodontal disease and, conversely, periodontal disease may cause deterioration of glycemic control. Growing evidence supports this bidirectional link between periodontal disease and diabetes, but further research is needed to understand this relationship. The IDF Guideline on Oral Health for People with Diabetes recommends that diabetes care providers incorporate oral health into diabetes education and refer patients to dental health professionals annually for oral health care.21

Few studies probe the financial impact of the periodontal disease-diabetes relationship. Some research indicates increased dental costs for people with diabetes.22 Dentists and dental hygienists can work with the physician, diabetes educator, and dietitian to maintain the patient's oral health and possibly improve the patient's metabolic control of diabetes. New screening tools will enable dentists to detect and refer undiagnosed cases of diabetes.23 Reducing tobacco use via anti-tobacco promotion and tobacco-cessation programs could improve both cardiovascular health and oral health.24

Depression care managers

Older patients with diabetes and depression who received team care via the IMPACT program (Improving Mood--Promoting Access to Collaborative Treatment for Late Life Depression) had an average of 115 more depression-free days, better physical functioning and quality of life, and lower medical costs over two years than did patients treated with standard care. The lower costs more than offset the cost of the team care. The IMPACT team includes a depression care manager (usually a nurse, social worker, or psychologist) who works closely with the patient's primary care physician and a consulting psychiatrist to treat depression in the patient's regular primary care clinic.25, 26

Eye care professionals

Achievement of the Healthy People 2010 objective to improve rates of preventive annual dilated eye examinations in people with diabetes was assessed in 59 CDC Diabetes Prevention and Control Programs. Results showed that from 2000 to 2003, the aggregate, age-adjusted rate of annual dilated eye examinations decreased from 67.7 percent to 65.2 percent (P=.05).27 Ophthalmologists and optometrists are critical members of the health care team with unique responsibilities for diabetes eye health.28 Implementing recommendations for annual dilated eye examinations is essential to help prevent vision loss from diabetic retinopathy.

Efforts to improve coordination among team members to facilitate referral for eye examinations can increase eye care in low-income, uninsured populations.29 Multidisciplinary patient-centered vision care algorithms have been developed to help patients with diabetes to access appropriate screening and management of diabetic retinopathy.30 A standard reporting form for eye examination results can be easily used in clinical practice31 (see American Optometric Association).

Nurse and dietitian certified diabetes educators

A program to implement and financially sustain an effective diabetes self-management education program was implemented for patients seen in community hospitals and primary care practices in the western part of Pennsylvania.32 Nurse and dietitian CDEs worked with primary care office staff to provide “diabetes day” individual and group patient appointments. Results showed increased patient access to these education services, improvement in A1C levels, and increased nurse involvement in medication initiation and adjustments, and patient satisfaction. Recognition from the American Diabetes Association in 21 sites enabled billing practices to help cover costs through payment for the educators’ services.


By taking nontraditional roles in family practice or medicine clinics in both urban and rural communities, pharmacists can improve chronic disease management, utilizing education and counseling skills or collaborative practice agreements with physicians.

Pharmacist interventions

A systematic review of 21 published studies of pharmacist interventions with adults with diabetes included nine randomized controlled trials, one controlled trial, and 11 cohort studies with a control group. Findings demonstrated consistent positive effects on patient A1C, lipids, and blood pressure values. Many pharmacist-based models were used to achieve the outcomes, but those with direct pharmacist-patient involvement resulted in the greatest A1C reductions (>1 percent decrease). Overall, most studies found that involving pharmacists in patient education was associated with at least a 0.5 percent reduction in A1C, a 17-18 mmHg reduction in blood pressure, and an 11 mg/dl reduction in LDL. The review authors caution that the findings are limited by flaws in study designs, including likely selection bias in the study populations. Only a few of the studies examined health care resource use. One reported that the average cost to lower A1C by 0.5 percent when utilizing a pharmacist was about $315 per patient, over approximately seven pharmacist visits.33

In a free-standing clinic, a pharmacist-provided program provides comprehensive diabetes and medication therapy management to the University of Kentucky’s health plan members who have diabetes, primarily type 2. A study of 263 patients after one year of program participation found significant A1C and lipid improvements, increased screenings for diabetes complications, and increased patient satisfaction with care, compared with baseline.34 A fee-for-service system is used.35

The Asheville Project—an employer collaboration

The Asheville Project was first implemented in 1997 as a pilot community-pharmacy care program, with 46 diabetes patients covered by two self-insured employers’ health plans. Patients received education by CDEs and long-term community pharmacist follow-up using scheduled consultations, clinical assessment, goal setting, monitoring, and collaborative drug therapy management with physicians. Results showed a 50 percent reduction in sick days within 14 months that remained consistent after 5 years, and zero workers’ compensation claims between 1997 and 2003. Mean A1C levels improved, and total mean direct medical costs decreased by $1,200 to $1,872 per patient per year compared with baseline.36 Today, more than 1,000 patients from five employers are enrolled for diabetes, asthma, and hypertension and lipid therapy management through the Asheville Project.

The Diabetes Ten City Challenge—an employer collaboration

Based on the Asheville Project model, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Foundation offers a non-profit consulting service under its Patient Self-Management Program for Diabetes, to help employers organize and implement diabetes management programs. The Diabetes Ten City Challenge is the latest initiative of the program in which participating employers offered a health care plan that waived co-payments for diabetes medications and supplies if patients worked with a pharmacist “coach” to monitor and manage their condition. In ten cities, thirty employers, hundreds of local pharmacists, and more than 800 people with diabetes participated in the initiative.

Results were reported for 573 patients with diabetes who had baseline and year-one medical and pharmacy claims and two or more documented visits with pharmacists. Statistically significant improvements were observed for key clinical measures, including A1C, LDL cholesterol, and mean systolic blood pressure. The rate of flu vaccinations and foot and eye exams increased. Employers realized an average annual savings of almost $1,100 in total health care costs per patient when compared to projected costs if the study had not been implemented, and participants saved an average of almost $600 per year.37


Recent examples of successful multidisciplinary lower-extremity screening, prevention, and treatment programs for diabetes foot disease have been reported for managed care and a large military medical center.11, 38 These programs significantly reduced amputation rates and foot-related hospital admissions. Teams involved podiatrists, vascular specialists, and other health care professionals.

Podiatrists and vascular surgeons play key roles in interdisciplinary lower-limb preservation teams that have significantly improved patient outcomes and reduced amputation rates in people with diabetes.39, 40 Other team members may include trained physicians, primary care providers, nurses, footwear specialists, and others as necessary. Essential skills for these teams include assessment of the patient’s vascular, neurological, and wound status; collection of soft tissue cultures and bone biopsy; wound incision and debridement; initiation and modification of antibiotic therapy; and active monitoring of the healing phase. A hospital-based setting where such centers can provide both outpatient and inpatient care helps maintain a financially viable program.41

Registered dietitians

A one-year randomized controlled trial compared usual medical care to usual care-plus-lifestyle case management provided by a registered dietitian. The case-managed group showed substantially greater weight loss, reduced A1C values, decreased prescription use, and increased health-related quality of life.42 Case management participants had fewer inpatient admissions, which substantially lowered medical care costs. Providing medical nutrition therapy to high-risk patients with type 2 diabetes and obesity decreased health plan costs by 34 percent.43

Registered nurses

With medical direction and defined protocols, nurses can make clinical management decisions about the treatment of diabetes, lipids, and hypertension; provide self-management education; and coordinate team services to meet the patient’s health care needs. Compared to usual physician care, nurse-directed diabetes care for minority adults improved process measures 98 percent of the time compared to 54 percent; A1C levels decreased to 7 percent compared to 8.7 percent; and 82 percent of patients met the LDL goal of <100mg/dl compared to 51 percent.44

One study evaluated the introduction of nurse case managers to collaborate at the office level with community-based primary care physicians in the care of 197 adult patients with type 2 diabetes. After six months, patients who received individual counseling, problem identification, care planning, and management recommendations from the nurse case manager had significantly improved mean systolic blood pressure and A1C values.45

A self-management program with a nurse case manager for children with diabetes showed improved A1C values, quality of life, and self-efficacy.9 The frequency of nurse case manager follow-up contacts appears to be positively linked to better patient A1C values.46



This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.