You’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes and you want to take proper care of yourself. After all, you know that if you control your blood glucose levels, you’ll feel better and lessen your chances of developing complications. But there are two problems. The first is that you don’t know enough about diabetes to ask the right questions. And the second? There’s a chance your doctor doesn’t know a lot about diabetes, either.
On the other hand, it’s possible that your doctor didn’t explain much when you were diagnosed because he knew that all you would hear that day was the word “diabetes,” and wanted to give you some time to let the diagnosis sink in.
Short of completing a fellowship in endocrinology, how can you tell if your doctor knows enough about diabetes to give you the proper care? It’s simple: Interview your current or potential doctor. Although taking care of your diabetes day-to-day will be primarily a do-it-yourself project, you’ll need the proper knowledge and tools before you can manage the condition, and that calls for a team of experts to guide you along the road to maintaining good health.
Dr. Rhoda Cobin suggests beginning the interview with your doctor or prospective doctor with the open-ended question, “What’s going on in my body?” Cobin, who is a past president of the American College of Endocrinologists, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and practices endocrinology in Ridgewood, New Jersey, says that that is the most important question you can ask.
That one question, Cobin says, can open up a dialogue between you and the doctor. It’s a chance for the doctor to tell you about diabetes: how it begins, how it can affect the rest of your body, what needs to be done to manage it, and more. It can also lead to more questions and answers covering a variety of subjects related to diabetes and other health concerns.
It’s also a chance to see if you and the doctor are able to communicate. The doctor needs to tailor his explanation to your needs, taking into account issues such as your age, motivation, education level, particular lifestyle issues, and coping style, Cobin says. If his answers don’t seem to make sense, if you don’t understand what the doctor is saying even after asking for clarification, or if the doctor doesn’t seem to be paying attention to you, you might want to keep on looking.
Some specific questions to ask include the following:
“Where will you send me for diabetes education?”
While many endocrinologists offer diabetes education in-house, general practitioners frequently do not. Most will, however, have access to diabetes education centers through hospitals, pharmacies, or other health-care facilities. Private educators or education centers also are available throughout the United States. If you go to www.diabeteseducator.org/, the website for the American Association of Diabetes Educators, you can click on “Find a Diabetes Educator” on the left-hand side of the page to search for one in your area. You can also search by state for diabetes education programs that are “Recognized by the American Diabetes Association” for meeting national standards of excellence at http://professional.diabetes.org/erp_list.aspx. The cost of education is usually covered by your insurance and Medicare.
Why do you need diabetes education? Well, you didn’t learn readin’, writin’, and ’rithmetic without a teacher, and you didn’t learn to drive without a driving instructor. In the same way, it’s difficult to learn to live the rest of your life with diabetes without education. Diabetes educators — a group that includes nurses, dietitians, social workers, pharmacists, podiatrists, physicians, exercise physiologists, and others — can help you form a management plan that fits your lifestyle and your needs.