Department of Awful Statistics

Incidentally, while reading the Longman article, I came across this passage:

Worse, even when strong scientific consensus emerges about appropriate protocols and treatments, the health-care industry is extremely slow to implement them. For example, there is little controversy over the best way to treat diabetes; it starts with keeping close track of a patient's blood sugar levels. Yet if you have diabetes, your chances are only one-out-four that your health care system will actually monitor your blood sugar levels or teach you how to do it. According to a recent RAND Corp. study, this oversight causes an estimated 2,600 diabetics to go blind every year, and anther 29,000 to experience kidney failure.

Now, this seems like a rather extraordinary assertion:  3/4 of all diabetics are not instructed in monitoring their blood sugar?  That's certainly a problem in the health care system, but can it really be true that the majority of the nation's primary care physicians regularly commit malpractice?

No, in fact, the Rand study he cites doesn't seem to quite say what he says.  As far as I can tell, this is the study he references, and here's what it actually says:

People with diabetes received only 45 percent of the care they needed. For example, fewer than one-quarter of diabetics had their average blood sugar levels measured regularly. Poor control of blood sugar can lead to kidney failure, blindness, and amputation of limbs.

There's no indication whether that's an access problem, a management problem, or a compliance problem.  But compliance will be at the very least a big part of it, as compliance is a major problem with all chronic diseases, and diabetes is one of the nastiest diseases to control, between diet, exercise, and drawing blood.  I very much doubt that the problem is a failure to "teach" diabetics how to monitor their blood sugar; I'm pretty sure it's going to be a combination of access barriers and low compliance rates.

Does this matter?  It doesn't much undercut the general thrust of the piece, but yes, a health system that barely bothers to teach people to control their blood sugar is very different from a health system that cannot produce regular records of blood sugar levels.  The latter is not ideal.  But it's a lot better than the former.

Knowing what it's like to go through editing on a technical piece, I know how easy it can be for something to get snarled, so I don't necessarily think Longman garbled the stat, but still:  awful statistic.