When it comes to diabetes treatment, life is better in St. George

Undated photo illustration. | Photo by Samara Heisz, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — No matter what type of diabetes one might have, there is no cure, but for local residents, there is an amazing treatment that comes with living in Southern Utah. You just have to walk out the door. 

The Intermountain Sunset Clinic in St. George, Utah, Feb. 28, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Dr. Brett Muse, a family medicine physician at the Intermountain Medical Sunset Clinic, said he came to St. George after practicing in Ogden. He said the prevalence of diabetes is the same in both the northern and southern parts of the state: 1 in every 5 of his patients suffers from it. 

But there’s a difference when it comes to St. George.

“The patients in Ogden struggled more to control diabetes than in St. George, (but) the attitude on activity is better in St. George,” Muse said. “Everybody feels better when they’re outside. This area just gets people to feel better.”

The focus on activity is a key to a collaboration between Intermountain Healthcare and the American Medical Group Association that has been aimed at improving quality of life and reduce costs for patients with diabetes. 

Intermountain was a founding member of the Together 2 Goal campaign, which now counts 150 medical groups and health systems. Participating groups share best practices, then report data on a quarterly basis to measure progress. The campaign recently celebrated reaching its goal of 1 million patients whose diabetes care has been improved.

At the heart of the efforts are the basics of patients increasing their activity, improving their nutrition and making better overall decisions for their health.

“The quality of diabetic control for patients at Intermountain and across the country continues to improve,” said Dr. Mark Greenwood, medical director of the Primary Care Clinical Program at Intermountain. “It is very satisfying to meet with a patient who is eating better, exercising, losing weight and following the guidelines and see how their life and health improve.”

At the Sunset Clinic, there is a free pre-diabetes class both for those experiencing the disease for the first time and for their loved ones. There are also dietitians to help with diet. 

“Twenty years ago, we would say, ‘Here’s a prescription and here’s a book’ and hope a patient is going to do a good job,”  Muse said. “These days, I have care managers, dietitians, care managers and ways to help outside the clinic. … Is it better than it used to be? Absolutely.”

Dr. Brett Muse in an undated photo of the Intermountain Sunset Clinic in St. George, Utah. | Photo courtesy Intermountain Medical, St. George News

Muse also says a big recent help for patients – especially those with Type 1 diabetes – has been the advent of continuous glucose monitors. A tiny sensor placed under the skin gives 24/7 monitoring of blood sugar levels that can be checked through a cell phone, replacing the finger pin pricks and test strips. 

In addition to better technology, diabetes patients in Southern Utah – especially the more common Type 2 diabetes, which is often the results of an unhealthy lifestyle – can take advantage of many opportunities to be more active. Muse says it doesn’t have to be as difficult as participating in one of the many marathons or getting out the hiking gear.

“A lot of people envision gym membership. I tell people just go out the door. Walk for 15 minutes,” he said. “Everybody feels better when they’re outside. It’s easier to get people in St. George to do it .”

A challenge for doctors like Muse with diabetes patients is overcoming a lack of understanding when it comes to their diet. That challenge is apparent when walking out of Muse’s clinic on Sunset Boulevard and having a range of fast food options all within the field of vision. 

But the healthy eating options for diabetic patients aren’t just about avoiding the heavy carbohydrates of fast food. Getting a vegetable-fruit smoothie could be just as bad, if not worse, than getting a Big Mac.  

Woman checking glucose level with a remote sensor and mobile phone. Continuous glucose monitors are replacing the traditional pin prick and test strip method for diabetes sufferers. | Photo by dzika_mrowka, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“People say, ‘I want to get healthy, so I’m going to make a smoothie,’” Muse said. “The problem is, carrots have a fair amount of sugar. Bananas do as well,”

Muse said a smoothie can be similar to eating a bushel of carrots or several bananas in one cup. 

Another piece of misinformation has been that diabetes can be cured, especially in the case of Type 2 patients. 

That isn’t the case; however, Muse said it is something that can be brought under control in the case of Type 2 patients to the point where they need to only occasionally check how their blood sugar is doing. But that comes only from taking the necessary steps of activity and diet. 

“There is misinformation you can cure diabetes if you do this or that,” Muse said. “I tell patients that if your sugars get back to normal, it can get you back where you were but monitor from there.”

For more information on how you can control diabetes, go to the Together2Goal website.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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