Athletes have them, many musicians and actors have them, and now people with diabetes can have them too: They’re coaches, and their role is to help you have the best diabetes control possible. Exactly how they do that depends on your needs and goals. Coaches can provide education, information, encouragement, support, and guidance in any number of areas that fall under the general heading of diabetes care. A diabetes coach does not replace the need for a primary health-care provider (for most people, a physician), but rather should help you to implement the diabetes care plan that you and your provider have established for you.
There’s a certain amount of overlap between diabetes education and diabetes coaching. The differences are largely about where it takes place, who pays for it, and how frequently you have contact with the educator or coach.
Formal diabetes education is generally delivered in a hospital or medical office, while diabetes coaching is often done over the phone or online. A certain number of hours of diabetes education per year are covered by many health insurance plans, while diabetes coaching is generally paid for by the individual (although some employee wellness plans may offer health coaching at low or no cost to the employee). Diabetes education is often delivered in a class or group setting (although it can be done one on one), while diabetes coaching is generally done one on one (although group sessions are offered by some coaching programs).
It’s worth noting that a person can only call himself a certified diabetes educator (CDE) if he has fulfilled the requirements set out the National Certifying Board of Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). Those include being a credentialed health-care professional, having a certain amount of professional practice experience, and passing a test administered by the NCBDE to assess knowledge of diabetes and its care.
In contrast, there is no national certification program for health, wellness, or diabetes coaching, so pretty much anyone can call himself a coach. Therefore, if you are seeking guidance about managing your diabetes, it’s best to seek out someone who is a certified diabetes educator or who at least is credentialed in the area in which he is offering advice. For example, if you’d like help with meal planning, find a registered dietitian (or other credentialed nutrition professional) who is offering coaching services.
When looking for a coach, ask about a person’s degrees, certifications, and experience working one on one with clients. Ask also for some references, and check them! Beyond that, look for someone who behaves professionally, listens to what you have to say, is easy to reach when you need to, and leaves you feeling confident that working together will be helpful and motivating for you.
One of the first (at least to my knowledge) certified diabetes educators to offer phone- and Internet-based diabetes coaching (in addition to in-office services) is Gary Scheiner, MS, CDE, Owner and Clinical Director of Integrated Diabetes Services and occasional contributor to Diabetes Self-Management magazine. (You can read some of his articles here and here.) Another, newer diabetes coaching service that operates exclusively by phone and online is Fit4D.
The benefit to using a service such as Integrated Diabetes Services or Fit4D is that it employs diabetes educators from different disciplines (dietetics, exercise, pharmacy, etc.) who can work with you as a team. However, if you want to concentrate on one area of your diabetes management, such as exercise, a coach with expertise in that one area who practices individually may adequately meet your needs. Most coaches and coaching services offer several service plans for a set price, so you can establish upfront how frequently you will have contact, for how many weeks or months, how that contact will take place, and how much it will cost.
Fit4D is currently offering a free taste of its coaching services by hosting two hour-long, online “open houses” on November 14. During that time, coaches will be giving presentations on various subjects, then opening the “floor” to questions, which can be submitted by e-mail. To register for an open house, click here.
Gary Scheiner also offers a free taste of online coaching with a free live chat every month on the second Tuesday at 9 PM EST. Chats cover such topics as new technology, management techniques, and others. If you’re interested in participating, e-mail Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What if you like the idea of coaching but already have a dietitian or other professional you like working with? If you think you would benefit from a series of regular appointments with a provider you already know, speak to that person, and ask about his availability, both for in-person appointments and telephone or e-mail contact. You may have to pay out of pocket for services or visits that are not specifically ordered by your physician, but you may decide it’s worth it if it means you get the help and support you need.