In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the diabetes team of Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) extended the hours of operation and scope of services for their diabetes hotline in mid-March.

Since the service was launched, demand for the service has grown – over 9,000 calls received – with 95% of patients surveyed saying they would recommend the hotline.

Dr Mahmoud Zirie, Senior Consultant and Head of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism Department at HMC, said the dedicated hotline, a medication home delivery service, virtual consultations, and an outreach programme in partnership with the Ministry of Public Health and Primary Health Care Corporation for patients with ‘poorly controlled’ diabetes, were among the range of measures put in place so that patients will continue to have access to specialised diabetes care throughout the pandemic.

We know that people with diabetes are considered high-risk for severe COVID-19 illness. The data demonstrates that people with diabetes have much higher rates of serious complications from this virus, compared to people without diabetes, so we took several steps to ensure patients do not unnecessarily come to the hospital.

Dr Zirie added that they moved the majority of their regular outpatient appointments to telemedicine appointments and implemented a number of new services, including a medication and medical equipment and supplies home delivery service.

He said that while they don’t want patients who are not acutely ill to come to the hospital, they also don’t want diabetics who require specialist care to go without that care.

Dr Manal Othman, Director of Diabetes Education at HMC, said the diabetes hotline, which is managed by trained diabetes educators, provides advice in Arabic, English and Urdu. Most individuals who call the hotline require general advice and support, but they also receive calls from patients who require non-emergency management of diabetes symptoms.

Broadly speaking, the calls we receive from patients and caregivers fall into two categories with the largest group requiring medication refills or store items, such as blood glucose metres and test strips, or asking general questions about diabetes and the COVID-19 virus.

The second category includes patients who require diabetes management, such as medication adjustments or management of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).

According to Dr Othman, diabetes educators play a vital role in supporting people living with diabetes to manage their condition and achieve optimal health outcomes. She said they are pleased to be offering the hotline service to the public; however, the public must understand that this service is for non-life-threatening conditions.

If you are experiencing a diabetic emergency, you must go to the emergency department or call 999.

Earlier this month the diabetes care team at the National Diabetes Center surveyed hotline users to gather feedback on patients’ overall experience using the service. Ninety-five percent of patients surveyed said they would recommend the hotline and over 90% of respondents indicated they considered the hotline to be a trusted and reliable resource for diabetes information and advice.

The diabetes hotline can be accessed by calling 16099, then select Option 4. This phone-based emergency service is available seven days a week, from 7 am to 7 pm, providing individuals with all types of diabetes, as well as their relatives or caregivers, with medical advice related to diabetes and diabetes care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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