x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Insurer plans lifestyle coaching for diabetics

The country's largest health insurer hopes to expand the programme to other diseases, such as obesity and smoking-related conditions.

ABU DHABI // The country's largest health insurer, Daman, will start offering "lifestyle coaching" to customers with chronic diseases such as diabetes. Under the pilot project to be launched in June, the insurer will initially focus on patients with diabetes, but hopes to expand the programme to other "lifestyle" diseases, such as obesity and smoking-related conditions, which cost it billions of dirhams each year.

"We will be coaching people who have diabetes over the phone on the way they are living, encouraging more exercise and asking about diet and weight. It will not just be telling them to lose weight, the advice will be based on medical evidence," said Dr Jad Aoun, the chief medical officer at Daman. Dr Aoun said customers who signed up for the programme would receive regular phone calls from specially trained nurses: "We will call the patient once or twice a month and check his weight, check his blood levels, his diet and give him whatever recommendations are required."

The nurses will also offer patients an opportunity to talk about issues they may feel are too small to discuss with their doctors. "We are completing what the doctor could not give in his clinic," said Dr Aoun. The UAE has the second highest rate of diabetes in the world; one in five adults has the disease and a large segment of the population is at risk of developing it. Type 2 diabetes is often the result of poor diet and exercise, while type 1 is normally a genetic condition.

Daman recently estimated that, if present trends continue, it will cost the country a total of Dh10 billion (US$2.7bn) to treat patients with the condition through 2010. Dr Aoun said the insurer aimed to help combat the growth of the diabetes epidemic and was "interested in a lot more than just reducing cost". Most of the medical costs associated with the disease stem from complications such as cardiovascular disease and renal failure.

Daman noted the programme was based on similar plans that have been implemented in Europe and North America, and other health professionals welcomed the move. "This had been tried in the States for different chronic diseases and it has shown to be effective," said Dr Yousef Allaban, a consultant psychiatrist at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi. "One of the problems that people have is if they get into a low mood, even before they get into full-blown depression, they become less careful. They do not take care of themselves as much as they should."

Although patients are told what changes they need to make by their doctors, sometimes this is not enough to modify the habits that have developed over a lifetime. "The frequent reminder will help them to get their act together. It's another reminder of the positive steps they can take to prevent the worsening of the condition," said Dr Allaban. amcmeans@thenational.ae