When healthcare providers from different clinics share and learn from each other, patients win. While we continue to see the benefits of collaborative care in type 1 diabetes (T1D) through the T1D Exchange Quality Improvement Collaborative (T1DX-QI), this patient care improvement model can be applied to nearly any chronic illness or condition.

Collaborative health networks are working to improve a wide variety of chronic illnesses, including type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease, and more.

The 2023 Healthier Together Community Conference (HTCC) in Cincinnati, OH recently invited learning health networks across the country to share the evidence and impact of collaborative quality improvement on patient health. The evidence is clear: patients benefit when varied specialists and clinics from across the country work together to determine the most effective strategies in care for any chronic illness.

The power of different clinicians working together

Trevon Wright, MHA Senior Analyst, Quality Improvement“It’s incredible how many different types of healthcare practitioners come together to improve the treatment and care for a patient,” explains Trevon Wright, MHA, Senior Analyst in the T1DX-QI who attended this year’s HTCC event. “Doctors, nurses, social workers, quality improvement specialists, family members, and certified professionals in healthcare quality (CPHQs).”

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement established the IHI model that strives to effectively, quickly, and accurately improve patient care and patient health, adds Wright. This model has played a critical role in the development of the T1DX-QI’s approach to improving care for people with diabetes.

“The Chronic Care Model works specifically on chronic illness quality improvement,” explains Wright. “It focuses on helping patients overcome the biggest obstacles they face in living with a particular chronic illness. It encourages high quality chronic disease care — and it strives to support the families just as much as the patients.”

While Wright is all too familiar with the benefits of collaborative care for T1D, watching how this model applies to other illnesses was encouraging and inspiring.

Quality improvement must include social determinants of health

Addressing a patient’s barriers related to social determinants of health (SDOH) is critical, and Wright says this was a focal point throughout presentations at the HTCC.

A patient’s finances, type of health insurance, access to food, access to medicine, secure housing — these barriers must be addressed within the healthcare of any chronic illness, emphasized Wright.

Through research in the T1DX-QI, it’s all too clear that a patient’s type of health insurance, for example, plays a huge role in their access to the standard of diabetes care — like using an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor.

In other chronic illnesses, SDOH is tied just as closely to the immediate and long-term health of a patient, as well as their overall quality of life.

Improving the support for a patient’s family matters, too

“Collaboratives focused on cystic fibrosis spoke on the importance of involving the community more — the importance of promoting cystic fibrosis education, awareness, and support,” recalls Wright.

The Improving Renal Outcomes Collaborative (IROC) also left an impression — considering the immense challenges that come with preparing, undergoing, and managing life after a kidney transplant.

“IROC has used quality improvement to improve the quality of life and longevity of patients who undergo kidney transplants and their families,” explains Wright.

For example, ensuring a patient takes their medications as prescribed can be a challenging part of pre- and post-transplant care. Family members play a significant a big role in supporting a loved-one after a kidney transplant — and that support plays a big role in the success of the transplant. Collaborating to share the best practices in supporting both the patient and their support team at home is critical.

“There was a significant focus on educating and supporting the family members of the patient with kidney disease,” says Wright. “Seeing how involved the families are with learning how to support their loved ones was incredible. So many families come together, learning together. Healthcare means involving more people outside of that patient/provider relationship.”

The evidence supports the value of collaborative healthcare

“It’s hard to manage a disease like diabetes without collaboration,” reminds Wright. “Seeing the amount of evidence that demonstrates the value of collaborative healthcare was incredible. In the clinics involved with quality improvement collaboratives across different diseases, it was visible that patient health outcomes improved significantly.”

Trevon Wright and Nicole Rioles from T1D Exchange with members of the CollaborativeT1D Exchange is committed to nurturing an environment for diabetes providers to learn and share best practices with each other. Taking it a step further is learning and sharing with other chronic disease networks across the country.

“It was incredible to see quality improvement tools and methodologies being used in a different space and having such a significant impact on achieving better health outcomes for everyone,” adds Wright. “It’s overwhelming to the work and effort that everyone puts into making healthcare resources and services equitable for everyone. I hope we continue this work to address these barriers and help patients get more equitable access to care.”