Life with diabetes is a journey, and your diabetes specialist is your guide, connecting you with the tools and support you need to stay healthy.
When Christel Marchand Aprigliano, vice president of the Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition, has an appointment with a new provider, she notices his body language. Arms folded, eyes averted, hand on the doorknob? Those signs point to someone who isn't fully engaged.
A good encounter feels comfortable. "They'll look you in the eye when they talk to you. They will talk to you in layman's terms. They will assess your level of understanding with what's going on with your health care," says Aprigliano, 45, of Tampa, FL. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12 and now writes a blog about it.
You want to seek a provider who knows about diabetes and treats patients with similar medical needs. For example, if you have type 1 diabetes and use a continuous glucose monitor and insulin pump, you want to see a provider who is familiar with the devices. That person might be an endocrinologist, but be aware that not all endocrinologists specialize in diabetes. Some treat mostly thyroid disease. You might find a good match with a primary care physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant who focuses on diabetes care.
It's also important to trust your instincts. A health care provider who makes you feel ashamed of your weight or guilty about your blood sugar levels isn't treating you as if you're in this together. Practitioners should seek to solve problems through shared decision-making, says Hope Warshaw, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Alexandria, VA. "They have the understanding that this is a very challenging disease," says Warshaw, author of five books on diabetes, including Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy. "They say, 'Here are our choices. What do you think would work better?' "
Beyond the medical exam, your provider should connect you with a diabetes educator who will help you stay on track with your goals. You may need referrals to other specialists, such as a podiatrist or ophthalmologist.
Of course, you share responsibility, too. Come to your appointments with your blood glucose meter or blood sugar log, a list of questions, and prescription renewals you need. "We have an obligation to help make that relationship stronger," Aprigliano says.
Questions to ask at your appointment:
- Do you see more patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes?
- What information should I bring to my medical exams?
- Can I have my lab work completed before my appointment so that we can discuss it?
- What choices do I have for my treatment?
- Where can I get diabetes education and peer support?
- What other health professionals will be involved in my care?