Just Diagnosed with Diabetes? Here’s Who You Need on Your Team
Editor’s Note: People who take insulin require consistently affordable and predictable sources of insulin at all times. If you or a loved one are struggling to afford or access insulin, you can build custom plans based on your personal circumstances through our tool, GetInsulin.org.
Whether you just got diagnosed with diabetes or just feel like you need more support with an existing diagnosis, it’s time to make sure you have the right people around you to help you with your health. The key thing to remember—you do not have to, nor should you expect yourself to, do this alone. Diabetes can be an intense disease with a steep learning curve. Having the right people around you to help ease the burden is key. With a great care team around you you’ll feel more prepared, more empowered, less anxious and have the proper tools in your toolkit to stay healthy and balanced. Many of these providers are usually covered by health insurance.
First, find a diabetes specialist you trust.
No matter the type of diabetes, people experience dramatically different levels of care at diagnosis. Many people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes are provided almost no information at all, but instead are sent home with the directive to “watch what you eat.” (If that was your experience, start here!) People with type 1 diabetes also sometimes experience this, which can be fatal since insulin is an absolute requirement for those with type 1 or LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood).
No matter the type of diabetes, this lack of information and guidance can be dangerous at worst, but also extremely unhelpful and causing more stress than necessary. Finding a diabetes specialist you trust will change your entire experience of the disease, keep you healthier now and in the future and lower your stress levels.
What do we mean by diabetes specialist? There are levels. Some primary care physicians are well-versed in managing diabetes, and your primary care provider (PCP) may be a good resource for you. Many people with diabetes choose to see an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in hormones and works with people who have all types of diabetes.
To tell if your PCP, endocrinologist, or other healthcare provider can adequately help you manage your diabetes, ask questions. Treat meeting a new healthcare provider like an interview—you’re seeing if this person is a good fit for the process of managing your health. Go with your intuition—are they spending enough time explaining what’s going on? Do you feel like you fully understand what they are explaining (the responsibility to be clear and understandable is on the healthcare provider)? Are they acting like your partner in caring for your health? Are they recommending options you can try, and listening and asking follow up questions when you are hesitant?
As a person living with diabetes, you have or will become the leading expert on your own body. You spend the most time with your body, and only you can know what is going on with it day to day. A great diabetes specialist will honor this, and work with you to manage your diabetes, knowing that treatments and solutions are never one size fits all.
Then, build your health care support team.
Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist—A certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) is someone who can help you manage not only the more detailed medical aspects of diabetes, but how diabetes fits in and exists alongside everything else in your life. Your CDCES can help you troubleshoot care issues, identify health patterns, teach you about what diabetes technology may or may not be best for you, find cost-saving programs, approach habit changing or mental health hurdles and be an overall partner in what your care looks like from a whole person perspective. Find a diabetes education program near you.
Mental Health Provider—Being diagnosed with diabetes means you just took on a lot: you have to learn a ton of new information in a short amount of time, completely change your habits around eating, potentially change your day to day routine, and wonder how your short term blood sugar management will impact your long term health. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or just need a little bit of extra support to help you work through new hurdles. Luckily there are many ways to access mental health support these days, and you can even find a therapist well-versed in diabetes management.
Dietitian—Social media and a lot of misinformed people will tell you otherwise, but there is no such thing as a “diabetic diet.” Just like with every other person, every person with diabetes has different nutritional needs, food that impacts their blood sugar in different ways, and foods that will make you feel better than others. And just like with every other person, it’s about learning what is best for you. This is where a dietitian can really help you troubleshoot, to figure out which foods are having the biggest impact on your blood sugar levels, plan meals and snacks that are both nutritious and don’t feel restrictive, and make sure your relationship to eating remains positive and balanced. Remember, just like with the rest of diabetes management, eating is not one size fits all. It’s just about finding the best fuel for your body.
Cardiologist—Having diabetes increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, so it’s all the more important to practice great heart health habits. If you have a history of heart issues in your family or any personal additional risk factors like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, go ahead and get a cardiologist on your team who can help you keep risk factors low.
Pharmacist—While you can likely get many of your medications and supplies through mail-order pharmacy if you prefer, it’s always helpful to have a local pharmacist you know, who knows your medical background, can help walk you through new medications, and can keep an eye out for your refills. The pharmacy is also the place where you’re most likely to run into surprise cost issues, an unfortunate part of living with diabetes in many countries, but particularly the United States because of insurance coverage or lack thereof and the high expense of diabetes drugs. Having a pharmacist who you know is your advocate will help lower your stress and make these situations more manageable. If you’re having trouble with insulin costs, be sure to visit GetInsulin.org to build an access plan that works for you.
Finally, lean on your community.
It is often said that the diabetes club is one you never want to join, but is such an amazing group of people once you find yourself in it. You can find a community of people living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes through the Beyond Type 1 and Beyond Type 2 community platforms. In-person community meetups are often posted on each community platform.
You don’t need to do diabetes alone, and even if you tend to be independent, never underestimate the power of knowing someone who can listen and understand what you’re going through.