Building Your Health Care Team
You don't have to deal with your diabetes alone. Create a support system that includes friends, family, and your health care team.
Living with diabetes can be a daily challenge—and can be emotionally difficult at times. But you don't have to deal with your diabetes alone. With the support of your family and friends, your health care team, and your community, you can take control of your condition.
Teamwork can lighten the load
Building a trusted and reliable health care team can help you better manage your type 2 diabetes. In addition to your doctor, health care specialists can help you manage some of the more complicated aspects of type 2 diabetes.
Your team will vary depending on your needs and the available resources. One thing is certain: You are at the center of the team. Talk with your doctor about any areas of your diabetes management plan that you are struggling with to learn whether other health care professionals might be helpful on your health care team.
Start by talking with your primary care professional. Sometimes this is an internist or a family practitioner. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants also provide primary care in certain settings. His or her support is important. Your insurance plan may require a referral from your doctor for visits to other health care team members.
Most people see their primary care doctor for general checkups and when they get sick. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants, usually working with a doctor, may also provide primary care. Your primary care doctor may refer you to specialists or to other team members.
Endocrinologists are physicians who specialize in diseases such as type 2 diabetes. If you do not see an endocrinologist, look for a primary care doctor who cares for many people with diabetes.For more advice on working with your doctor to make the most of your treatment plan, be sure to check out Working With Your Doctor
A certified diabetes educator works alongside your primary care doctor and other health care professionals to help you gain the knowledge and skills to change your behavior and manage type 2 diabetes and its related conditions successfully. Your diabetes educator, who may also be a registered nurse or dietitian, can tailor a self-management plan to meet your individual needs.
It can be hard work to adjust your lifestyle to control your blood sugar. You may even feel overwhelmed once you’ve left the doctor’s office and return to your daily routine. A diabetes educator can provide guidance and support to help you stay motivated in working toward a healthy lifestyle.
A registered dietitian is trained in nutrition and has passed a national exam. A registered dietitian may also have a master's degree or may be a certified diabetes educator. Be sure to work with a registered dietitian who has training and experience with diabetes. If your doctor does not work with a dietitian, ask him or her to refer you to one.
Your dietitian helps you figure out your food needs based on your desired weight, lifestyle, medicine, and other health goals (such as lowering cholesterol or blood pressure). Even if you've had diabetes for many years, a visit to a dietitian can help. For one thing, our food needs change as we age. Nutrition guidelines for people with diabetes also change from time to time.
Dietitians can also help you learn how to:
- Plan meals
- Balance food with medicines and activity
- Understand how the foods you eat affect your blood sugar and cholesterol levels
- Read food labels
- Make a sick-day meal plan
- Plan for eating out and special events
- Make food substitutions
The American Diabetes Association guidelines say people with type 2 diabetes should see an eye doctor—either an ophthalmologist or an optometrist—at least once a year, because diabetes can affect the blood vessels in the eyes. Be sure your eye doctor is familiar with how to spot and treat eye disease in people with diabetes.
You may want to consider requesting a complete exam, including dilated pupils. These checkups are the best way to detect eye disease. When eye problems are caught early, very good treatments are available.
Your pharmacist knows which prescription combinations can be dangerous or less effective. To take advantage of your pharmacist’s expertise, make a list of all your medicines, their dose strengths, and how often you take them. Include vitamins, herbal supplements, and home remedies. Review the list with your pharmacist once a year and every time your medicines change.
Ask your pharmacist how to use your medicines and supplies to get the best results at the lowest cost.
A podiatrist is a health care professional trained to treat feet and problems of the lower legs. Diabetes can sometimes lead to poor blood flow and nerve damage in the lower legs, which increases the likelihood of infections. Sores, even small ones, can quickly turn into serious problems. Any foot sore or callus needs to be checked by your primary care doctor or a podiatrist. Your podiatrist can also advise you on the right shoes for your needs.
Type 2 diabetes increases your risk of gum disease. The excess blood sugar in your mouth makes it a good home for bacteria, which can lead to infection. See your dentist every 6 months, and make sure he or she knows that you have diabetes.
Exercise can help lower blood sugar, help your body better use insulin, and help control your weight. It can also improve your cholesterol levels, reduce stress, and improve your overall fitness level. The best person to help you and your doctor plan your fitness program is someone trained in the scientific basis of exercise.
Look for someone with special expertise or experience in working with people who have diabetes. Also look for an individual who has a master's or doctoral degree in exercise physiology or for a licensed health care professional who has graduate training in exercise physiology. Certification from the American College of Sports Medicine is another sign that the person has the skills needed to plan a safe, effective exercise program.
Always get your doctor's approval before beginning any exercise program.
Mental health professionals help with the personal and emotional side of living with diabetes.
A social worker may be able to help you find resources to help with your medical or financial needs. He or she should hold a master's degree in social work (MSW) and have training in individual, group, and family therapy.
A psychologist who works directly with patients can have a master's or doctoral degree in psychology and is trained in individual, group, and family psychology. A few sessions with a psychologist might help during a time of increased stress. Long term, a psychologist might help you work on lasting problems.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can prescribe medicine to treat emotional problems. Psychiatrists also provide counseling.
Marriage and family therapists can help you with personal problems in family and marital relationships and with problems on the job. These therapists should hold a master’s or doctoral degree in a mental health field and have additional training in individual, family, and marriage therapy.
Remember, you and your primary care doctor should work together to determine who else should be on your health care team and the best ways for you to take advantage of their expertise.