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Population-level strategies may improve primary care for diabetes. We designed a controlled study to assess the impact of population management versus usual care on metabolic risk factor testing and management in patients with type 2 diabetes. We also identified potential patient-related barriers to effective diabetes management.We used novel clinical software to rank 910 patients in a diabetes registry at a single primary care clinic and thereby identify the 149 patients with the highest HbA1c and cholesterol levels. After review of the medical records of these 149 patients, evidence-based guideline recommendations regarding metabolic testing and management were sent via e-mail to each intervention patient's primary care provider (PCP). Over a 3-month follow-up period, we assessed changes in the evidence-based management of intervention patients compared with a matched cohort of control patients receiving usual care at a second primary care clinic affiliated with the same academic medical center.In the intervention cohort, PCPs followed testing recommendations more often (78%) than therapeutic change recommendations (36%, P = 0.001). Compared with the usual care control cohort, population management resulted in a greater overall proportion of evidence-based guideline practices being followed (59 vs. 45%, P = 0.02). Most intervention patients (62%) had potential barriers to effective care, including depression (35%), substance abuse (26%), and prior nonadherence to care plans (18%).Population management with clinical recommendations sent to PCPs had a modest but statistically significant impact on the evidence-based management of diabetes compared with usual care. Depression and substance abuse are prevalent patient-level adherence barriers in patients with poor metabolic control.