As mentioned before the high blood glucose in diabetes mellitus alters the immune system and impairs the immune response [11
]. The present study investigated that individuals with DM are more likely to have a higher influenza immunization coverage. Also, a Swiss study found a high number of annual flu shots in DM individuals [16
]. The higher frequency of influenza shots in the DM population could result from more frequent visits to the general practitioner. Current literature shows that individuals with DM have a higher incidence for influenza and pneumonia and further are at higher risk for influenza-mediated and pneumonia-related morbidity and mortality [10
]. Due to the higher influenza-related morbidity and mortality in individuals with diabetes mellitus the general practitioner could be more likely to suggest the annual flu shot to DM individuals. In the age-stratified analysis, a higher frequency of influenza immunization within the > 50 years old DM cohort compared to the < 50 years old DM cohort can be found; however, the difference in intact influenza immunization cannot be found in the comparison of the > 50 years old DM to the > 50 years old Non-DM populations. Even though the immune system of DM individuals is weaker compared to healthy individuals, especially in older patients. Therefore, all DM individuals should be vaccinated against influenza. Next the intact immunization of other infections such as tetanus, diphtheria, polio and TBE is still statistically significantly lower in the DM cohort compared to the non-DM cohort. In the present study an intact immunization of pneumococcus in 13.8% of the DM cohort could be observed. In comparison, another study could show that around 39% of DM individuals received a pneumococcal vaccination in 2007 [17
]. Still, in order to protect people with DM the target should be to improve the immunization rate against all infections.
Concerning doctors’ visits, the results on visiting general practitioners of DM individuals (89.4%) are in line with recently published data of a Swiss study group, who demonstrated that around 93.4% of DM individuals attended their general practitioner annualy [16
]. In the Swiss study, around two thirds of the DM individuals visited a diabetologist [16
]. Looking at our results, 74.5% of the DM cohort went to a specialist doctor in the last year. The frequency of attending a specialist doctor in the present study is higher than in Switzerland, as this study includes all specialties compared to only diabetologists in Switzerland. In general, the higher amount of general practitioners and specialist doctors’ visits could result from the higher comorbidities found in the DM cohort. Therefore, the individuals of the DM group could have more check-ups and visits related to complications from the underlying disease or comorbidities and visit a doctors’ office more often. Next in 2014 an US study investigated the differences in annual dentist visits between a DM and a non-DM group. They observed that around 61.4% of the DM group went to the dentist in the last year compared to 66.5% in the non-DM group [18
]. In their study similar trends could be found. In our study around 38.8% of the DM cohort visited the dentist in the last 6 months compared to 48.6% of the non-DM cohort. Even though periodontal disease is known to be more frequent in diabetes mellitus patients the authors could observe a lower amount of annual dentist visits in the DM group. Possible mechanisms linking periodontal disease to diabetes mellitus include elevated systemic levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, especially interleukin‑1, interleukin‑6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha [19
]. Furthermore, studies also claim that periodontal disease are related to the development of diabetes mellitus [19
]. Moreover, periodontal disease increases with age [20
]. Still, the > 50 years old DM cohort was less likely to visit the dentist compared to the > 50 years old Non-DM cohort. This finding could result from the low awareness of the impact of diabetes mellitus on oral health in the DM cohort [21
]. Further, the insurance companies in Austria do not cover every treatment carried out by the dentist. Therefore, socioeconomic situation of DM individuals could also affect the frequency of visiting the dentist. Interestingly the present study observed higher amounts of preventive actions in the DM cohort compared to the non-DM cohort, except for PAP smears and mammography. Also, looking at blood pressure measurements and laboratory measurements for the analysis of blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels, there was a higher frequency in the DM cohort. Similar trends can be observed in a Swiss study, showing that 96% of the DM group had a blood pressure and 94% a blood lipid measurement in the last 12 months [16
]. In comparison to the Swiss study the present study observed 91% of the DM cohort having a blood pressure and 90% a blood cholesterol measurement taken in the last year. Health insurances suggest annual primary care visits and usage of preventive screening such as hemoccult test, colonoscopy, PAP smear and mammography [22
]. The recommendation from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection for annual visits for preventive medical check-ups and gynecologist with PAP smear for women is 18 years, mammography from 45 years on, hemoccult test and colonoscopy from 50 years on [22
]. This finding accompanies the beforementioned age recommendation for these procedures. Also, within the DM cohort it was investigated that the > 50 years old DM cohort had a higher frequency of hemoccult test and colonoscopy compared to the < 50 years old DM cohort. Certainly, blood glucose measurements are important for individuals suffering from diabetes mellitus and are carried out at nearly every hospital and doctors’ visit. Further the awareness of the higher mortality of DM individuals with high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels led to more frequent preventive care screenings in individuals with DM [23
]. More frequent preventive care screening can be influenced by the higher frequency of general practitioner and specialist doctor visits of the DM cohort. Furthermore, more frequent doctor visits could lead to a better communication of the importance of preventive care and give an easier access to preventive care referrals. Next DM individuals are more prone to development of cancer and therefore preventive screening is very important in this specific cohort [24
]. Though studies discuss if a higher usage of preventive care, such as mammography, is leading to a higher detection rate of cancer or to false positive cases [25
]. In addition, the DM cohort has more comorbidities, which could also be a reason for more preventive care usage and also highlights its importance; however, the non-existing differences in influenza immunization comparing the > 50 years old DM to the > 50 years old Non-DM cohort illustrates that immunization status has to be improved in the vulnerable DM individuals, particularly as this study investigated a higher frequency of general practitioner visits in the > 50 years old DM cohort. Especially, since the vaccination rate against influenza between 2007 and 2014 was decreasing [14
]. Therefore, it is crucial to not only understand the immunization usage of DM individuals but also to raise awareness of higher infection morbidity and mortality for them in order to achieve an intact influenza immunization in the whole DM population.
Novel strength of the present study is that to the best of our knowledge, it is the first to investigate a variety of preventive care screenings, the frequency of different doctor visits and the immunization status in a big DM cohort compared to a non-DM cohort. The findings of the present study could lead to set priorities in order to further improve preventive care in DM individuals, especially for the > 50 years old DM population. Especially, as albeit the higher frequency of doctor visits in the > 50 years old DM population no difference in the frequency of preventive care compared to the > 50 years old Non-DM population is found.