Working with Your Diabetes Health Care Team
A team-based approach is the best way to prevent CVD and manage your diabetes. Managing diabetes requires a multi-disciplinary approach with medical professionals who have expertise in specific fields. Your health care team can help you develop a treatment plan to manage your condition and prevent or minimize related complications.
You are the most important member of your care team. And your team depends on you to tell them how you feel. You may work with several health care professionals. These may include a family doctor, endocrinologist, registered dietician, certified diabetes educator and others.
It’s important to have a team to provide you the support you need. Be sure to write down questions and concerns to bring to your office visits.
It’s important to have a team to provide you the support you need. And it's important that you do your:
- Research and provide your family’s history of diabetes and related risks.
- Adhere to the health care team’s treatment plan, including making lifestyle changes and taking medications and monitoring your critical health numbers.
- Be honest about how well you’re adhering to the treatment plan.
- See your health care professionals as recommended.
Your health care team
Family doctor (general practitioner)
If you have diabetes, you should see your family doctor more than once a year. Your doctor's staff may include nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Supported by staff, your doctor will:
- Provide you with valuable information about diabetes and how to treat it
- Focus on your diabetes problems and your overall health
- Discuss making lifestyle changes to lessen the effects of diabetes and prevent complications.
- Refer you to other professionals with specialized knowledge that can help treat diabetes and its effects.
You may want to ask your doctor:
- What is my blood sugar level and what should my target number be?
- What is my blood pressure and what should my target number be?
- What is my blood cholesterol and what should my target number be?
- Am I overweight or obese? How much weight should I lose?
- What are my risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease or stroke? What are the warning signs?
- What types of foods should I eat? What should I avoid?
- What are the best types of physical activities for me? How active do I need to be?
- What medications should I take to help manage my diabetes?
These health care professionals care for and education people with diabetes. Diabetes educators provide diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES), which helps patients with diabetes navigate decisions and activities to support their treatment plan. They can be nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, doctors, exercise physiologists, podiatrists and social workers, among others. Many have met additional care criteria.
Diabetes educators provide self-management education and support, which helps patients with diabetes navigate decisions and activities to support their treatment plan. The training has improved health outcomes in some people with diabetes. Often, if the patient’s status has changed, the primary care or family practitioner should consider referring the patient for an additional round of DSMES education.
Diabetes educators who provide patients with comprehensive care may:
- Counsel them on how to incorporate healthy eating and regular physical activity into their lives.
- Help them understand how their medications work.
- Teach them how to monitor their blood glucose to avoid the risk of complications.
- Help them solve problems related to diabetes, including making emotional adjustments.
- Create a customized self-management plan based on needs, age, school or work schedule, daily activities, family demands, eating habits and health problems.
You may ask your diabetes educator:
- What do my blood sugar results mean, and when should I call my doctor?
- What physical activity is right for me?
- What do I need to know about healthy eating and meal planning?
- What should be my "sick day" plan?
- What should I do if I start to get sick at work?
- How do my diabetes medications affect other prescription or over-the-counter drugs?
- What should I do if I can't remember something we talked about?
Find a diabetes educator near you(link opens in new window).
Registered dietitians can help you understand dietary dos and don'ts — a must for managing diabetes. Being consistent about what, when and how much you eat is crucial. And without the help of a nutritional expert, it can be frustrating and confusing. Registered dietitians undergo rigorous academic training and extensive practical experience. Plus, they keep their food and nutrition knowledge up to date by completing continuing professional education programs.
When meeting with your dietitian, you may ask:
- How does food affect my blood glucose?
- Can I eat foods with sugar in them?
- How can I eat and keep my blood glucose levels at a healthy level?
- Why should I eat about the same amount at the same times each day?
- How much of each type of food should I eat each day?
- What should I eat when I feel sick?
- What foods can I eat a lot?
- Can I drink alcohol?
Learn more about what dietitians do and find one near you(link opens in new window).
Your pharmacist can be a valuable resource for education and information about the medications you take for diabetes and other conditions. Pharmacists are trained in the science and clinical use of prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Consider these helpful tips for building a good relationship with your pharmacist:
- Even though you may have several doctors, fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. Then all your medication records will be in one place, and your pharmacist can alert you to any potential drug interactions of medications prescribed by different doctors.
- Check with your pharmacist before taking over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements because they can interact with your prescription medications and cause side effects.
- Read the label. If you're unsure whether the medication is what your doctor prescribed or if the dosage seems incorrect, ask your pharmacist.
- To prevent any adverse reactions, your doctor and pharmacist should know if you’re allergic to medications foods or anything else.
To get the most from your medication, ask your pharmacist:
- When is the best time to take this medication? Should I take it before or after I eat?
- How will this drug interact with my current medications?
- Are there any foods I should avoid?
- What are the side effects?
- What is the best way to store the medication?
- What should I do if I miss a dosage?
- Is there a generic version of the medication?
Endocrinologists (hormone doctors)
Endocrinologists treat people with endocrine gland disorders, such as diabetes, and thyroid diseases and hormonal disorders. In many cases, an endocrinologist may become the primary doctor to manage your diabetes.
Podiatrists (foot doctors)
A podiatrist is certified and trained to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions associated with the foot and ankle. The American Diabetes Association recommends that all people with diabetes receive an annual foot exam to examine. Over time, up to 50% of people with diabetes develop neuropathy—nerve damage in their feet and lower legs. This loss of feeling may prevent patients from feeling heat, cold or pain; they can even get cut or otherwise injured on their feet and legs and not realize it. Untreated cuts can lead to infections, ulcerations, and in severe cases, amputation.
Your doctor may send you to a podiatrist to recognize and manage feet and leg issues early. Your visits may be more frequent if you have other foot-risk conditions.
Your podiatrist will:
- Check your pulse and the circulation in your feet.
- Look for cuts, bruises, or infections.
- Check the sensation in your feet.
- Educate you about:
- Your risks
- How to manage your feet
- The importance of daily foot monitoring
- Proper foot and nail care
- Proper footwear
Ophthalmologists/Optometrists (eye doctors)
Ophthalmologists and optometrists specialize in treating the eyes, which can be affected by diabetes. "Retinopathy" is a general term used for all disorders of the retina caused by diabetes, and it's common in people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
If you’re diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you’re strongly advised to have a comprehensive eye exam right away. After that, yearly exams are recommended unless retinopathy is progressing.
Cardiologists (heart doctors)
Cardiologists are doctors who are specially certified to treat problems of the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart and arteries. Cardiologists also treat related conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chest pain, heart failure, heart attacks, stroke, congenital heart defects and arrhythmia. Because you may be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, your primary care provider may refer you to see a cardiologist. Cardiologists may recommend a variety of tests to diagnose a patient's condition.
Nephrologists are doctors who specializes in disorders of the kidneys and diseases that affect them, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. If your primary care doctor doesn’t feel that your kidneys are functioning properly, they may send you to a nephrologist to diagnose and treat the problem.
Diabetes can damage your kidneys over time if it’s not properly managed. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure in the U.S. People with diabetes should have annual kidney screenings. One test checks how much albumin (protein) is in your urine. Too much of it in your urine is a sign of kidney damage. A blood test can also show how well your kidneys are working.
Role of Family and Friends
In addition to your health care team, your family and friends can be vital to managing your diabetes, helping with your emotional well-being, and supporting you in an emergency.
With diabetes, you often have important choices and items to remember about your health care. Having a friend or family member around could help you. Choose a member of your family to come with you to health care visits and help you manage your diabetes.
Your health care team is bound by law to keep your medical information confidential. But your family members may wish to speak with them and find support to deal with their feelings. If you’re not opposed to this, you can provide your health care team with a list of people with whom they have your permission to discuss your medical condition.