Going Virtual: The Future of Diabetes Care
Editor’s Note: This content was created in partnership with DreaMed Diabetes, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication.
Ashlyn Mills is a physical therapy assistant in an outpatient setting in Florida, working with people with orthopedic and neurological disabilities. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 19 years old. Ashlyn recently started using DreaMed’s telehealth platform to see an endocrinologist, and spoke with Beyond Type 1 about the shift to virtual care.
Beyond Type 1: To start, can you tell me about your diagnosis, and how you originally managed your diabetes?
Ashlyn Mills: I had a strange diagnosis, it was caught a little bit early. I was already being followed by an endocrinologist for some other issues and we started noticing some higher blood sugars on labs. My A1C wasn’t incredibly high so they put me on a Dexcom and started monitoring my blood sugar so they could see what kind of patterns I was experiencing. My fasting blood sugars crept up higher and higher and they went ahead and added basal insulin at that point. I was insulin dependent about three months after my diagnosis.
They diagnosed me with type 1 from the start. They did say that it looked like a latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), but it was pretty clear that it was type 1 from the get go. I was using insulin pens at that time.
Tell me about your treatment since diagnosis.
I live in a rural area in Florida. There’s not an endocrinologist around here. I had been seeing an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, which is about a two and a half hour drive for me, and that was just because that’s who came recommended by my primary care physician. I was diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic and followed up with endocrinology there for the first two years after my diagnosis. The nurse practitioner that I was seeing there actually left and came to a clinic that was about an hour and a half from my home, and I had a good rapport with her. I went ahead and followed her.
Her and I had come to the understanding that it was difficult for me to see her every three months, so instead I saw her every six months. It became a little bit of an issue for me being able to talk with someone in between if I had issues, which is how I found DreaMed. I could find somebody to bridge the gap between those six months that I’m going without seeing a doctor in person. Now, I’m able to communicate with someone whenever I want to.
How have you been keeping up with your job as a healthcare worker living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) during the pandemic?
Florida did a stay at home order back in March. About mid April my employer decided, “We’re going to send everybody who is high-risk home.” I worked from home for about two months and then the numbers started looking better and they sent me back to work. Now, I’m working in the clinic every day and it is nerve wracking. I’m still working but I’m quarantining from my family right now because I was exposed at work.
I go through phases where I feel like I would be fine if I got it but then I have bad blood sugar days and I’m like, “This is it. If I get COVID I’m doomed because my blood sugar was over 11.1 mmol/L200 mg/dL all day today.” Overall, I think I would be okay but I do worry about being hospitalized. I think that’s my biggest fear with the whole entire thing is ending up in the hospital with no family there to be with me. I pray every day that I stay well but I am working and the numbers in our county are rising quickly
How did you find out about DreaMed and what was that process like getting started?
When I was sent home and started doing telehealth with my patients I realized this is easy, there shouldn’t be any reason why I can’t do this.
At the time my endocrinologist’s office was not offering telehealth appointments, even in the midst of COVID-19. I started doing a little bit of research and found DreaMed. I went on the website and signed up for more information. My experience as a provider doing telemedicine is what led me to push to try to find someone that could do the same with me as a patient.
How does DreaMed work?
They asked me what state I lived in and they connected me with an endocrinologist here in Florida, Dr. Kava. I set a telemedicine appointment with her and she spent about an hour with me on that first call. I think you can view it as a replacement service for your current endocrinologist or just an add-on to your current care.
Was it surprising your appointment lasted for an hour?
Dr. Kava would have spent as long as I wanted her to with me. My normal appointments in the clinic, I drive about two hours to be seen for maybe 10 minutes. Most of the time there’s not too much to discuss at those appointments you just make a few changes, but she asked all about my personal life, including my mental health during the pandemic. She really seemed invested in me as a person, too, not just diabetes.
She nitpicked my data because I told her I’m a little bit of a control freak. She said, “If you want tight control I’ll help you.” She spent a long time combing through all of my graphs and figuring out what we could do to get things even tighter than they already were.
Has any diabetes provider before Dr. Kava asked about your mental health?
That’s the first time I recall that happening. When I was first diagnosed I had a diabetes educator talk with me about mental health and diabetes to prepare me for what may be to come with my mental health. They assume if your control is good you’re doing okay with your mental health, but that’s not always the case. I don’t necessarily quit caring for myself when I feel burned out but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling mentally with it.
It was Dr. Kava spent a good bit of time talking with me about mental health and diabetes and how my mental health was doing with COVID-19 and all of that so I was very impressed with that.
Were there any other specific suggestions that stuck out to you?
Most adult endocrinologists seem stuck in the stone ages a little bit. Dr. Kava looked at my data and she said, “You’re on a closed loop system. The system is going to suspend you if you’re going to go low. If you want to stay below 7.8 mmol/L140 mg/dL or if you want to stay below 6.7 mmol/L120 mg/dL I can help you get your settings there.” That was the first time that I had ever had someone be willing to be that aggressive with my care, but I felt like she was totally game for whatever I wanted her to help me do.
Do you think that you’ll continue using DreaMed?
Yeah, ideally I would like something to bridge the gap right now. Although my endocrinologist has started offering telemedicine I’d like somebody that I can talk with through DreaMed and not feel like I’m bothering. When you’re bothering your endocrinologist a lot of times you’ll get an unexpected bill; it would be nice to pay the monthly fee and have somebody at my fingertips whenever I need them. If my endocrinologist quit offering telemedicine I would love for DreaMed to replace my current endocrinologist. As much as I love her it’d be nice to do telemedicine and not have to drive two hours to be seen by someone.
Do you have any advice for someone living with Type 1 who doesn’t currently have access to a local endocrinologist?
I just think if anyone’s trying to figure out what to do in the time of pandemic or just tired of driving to see an endocrinologist as frequently as they do, I would suggest looking into DreaMed. They’re currently offering a three-month trial. I have no dog in the fight, I’m not being compensated to say anything about them. You have nothing to lose. They are very honest and I think it’s worth giving a try.