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Clinic strives to provide its patients with any support they require

WILLMAR -- Verna Kelly works at keeping her diabetes well-managed.

She takes her medication every day and makes sure she visits her doctor at Family Practice Medical Center once a year.

She admits to needing some prodding, however, to have her blood sugar level checked often enough.

"I never remember to go in," Kelly said. "They always notify me it's time."

A reminder system is one of the strategies the family practice clinic has implemented to keep closer tabs on its 600 patients who have type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

It's an important thing to do, said Stacey Zondervan, patient services director for the clinic. When this chronic disease isn't optimally treated, patients are at risk of heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, blindness and other complications.

It's why diabetes is one of several conditions -- along with others such as asthma, depression and vascular disease -- for which Minnesota Community Measurement has set performance standards measuring the quality of care these patients receive.

Jim Chase, executive director of Minnesota Community Measurement, hopes medical groups are using the data to see how they stack up and where they can improve.

"It's not about grading the clinics," he said. "It's really about how well they're helping patients achieve results."

At Family Practice Medical Center, this means a lot of coaching, Zondervan said.

"It's that constant vigilance, that constant support and those constant reminders," she said.

The clinic's physicians and staff recognize that not all patients will be able to achieve optimal diabetes management, she said. She calls the numbers "something to work towards."

"Our physicians are very aware that our patients are real people. They're treating the whole patient," she said. "You have to look at what the patient is willing to do. You need to be able to get that patient healthy from a whole perspective. It's that constant encouragement -- understanding the whole situation, not just the disease, and then treating that patient."

So far, Kelly has succeeded at controlling her diabetes with medication.

"As long as I can avoid going on insulin, that's a major goal I have," she said.

She said she appreciates knowing that she's being monitored, even if it sometimes feels like nagging.

"It's nice that someone is keeping track of me," she said. "They don't let me get away with anything. I'm very confident going into that clinic."

Patients have greeted the reminders with varying responses, Zondervan said.

"Some people haven't jumped on board with it and some have jumped halfway on board," she said. "Sometimes people get frustrated and say, 'I don't want to talk to you anymore.'"

But one of the things Family Practice Medical Center has learned is that when there's a solid relationship with the health care team, patients with diabetes tend to fare better, she said.

"I think we've had that opportunity, being a smaller clinic, to have that family-type relationship with our patients. We've been able to do that, and that's been successful for us," she said.

Over time, the clinic has seen better management overall of diabetes and far fewer glucose results that are way out of the norm, she said.

"People are becoming increasingly aware of what those numbers are and trying to achieve them," she said. "I think that people have become more aware than ever before."