Work with Your Health Care Team

Updated:Apr 14,2017

Health care providers should be your primary source for individualized information and advice about your diabetes. They can help you develop a treatment plan to manage the disease and prevent or, at least, minimize associated health complications.

"A joint effort—almost camaraderie—between you and your health care provider is often required to successfully manage type 2 diabetes," said Daniel W. Jones, M.D. and past president of the American Heart Association. Watch this video to learn more from Dr. Jones about working with your health care provider.

When working with your health care providers, it's important that you do your part. This includes:

In some cases, managing diabetes requires a multi-disciplinary approach with medical professionals who have expertise in specific fields. Your health care team may include:

Healthcare team

Your family doctor (general practitioner)

If you have diabetes, you should see your family doctor more than once a year. Your doctor's staff may include nurse practitioners and physician assistants, as well. Supported by staff, your doctor will:
  • Provide you with valuable information about diabetes and how to treat it
  • Focus on your specific diabetes problems and your overall health
  • Talk to you about lifestyle changes you can make to lessen the effects of the disease and prevent complications
  • Refer you to other professionals with specialized knowledge that can help treat diabetes and its effects, as needed
When meeting with your family doctor, you might want to get answers to the following questions:
  • What is my blood sugar level and what should my target number be?
  • What is my blood pressure and what should my target number be?
  • What is my blood cholesterol and what should my target number be?
  • Am I overweight or obese? How much weight should I lose?
  • What are my risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease or stroke? What are the warning signs?
  • What types of foods should I eat? What should I avoid?
  • What are the best types of physical activities for me? How active do I need to be?
  • Are there medications I should take to help me manage my diabetes?

If you have diabetes, you should see your family doctor more than once a year. Your doctor's staff may include nurse practitioners and physician assistants, as well. Supported by staff, your doctor will:
  • Provide you with valuable information about diabetes and how to treat it
  • Focus on your specific diabetes problems and your overall health
  • Talk to you about lifestyle changes you can make to lessen the effects of the disease and prevent complications
  • Refer you to other professionals with specialized knowledge that can help treat diabetes and its effects, as needed
When meeting with your family doctor, you might want to get answers to the following questions:
  • What is my blood sugar level and what should my target number be?
  • What is my blood pressure and what should my target number be?
  • What is my blood cholesterol and what should my target number be?
  • Am I overweight or obese? How much weight should I lose?
  • What are my risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease or stroke? What are the warning signs?
  • What types of foods should I eat? What should I avoid?
  • What are the best types of physical activities for me? How active do I need to be?
  • Are there medications I should take to help me manage my diabetes?

These health care professionals specialize in providing care and education to people with diabetes. They can be nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, doctors, exercise physiologists, podiatrists and social workers, among others. Many are also certified diabetes educators (CDEs), meaning they have met additional care criteria.


Diabetes educators provide patients comprehensive care by:

  • Counseling them on how to incorporate healthy eating and regular physical activity into their life
  • Helping them understand how their medications work
  • Teaching them how to monitor their blood glucose to avoid the risk of complications
  • Assisting them in solving problems associated with diabetes, including making emotional adjustments
  • Creating a customized self-management plan based on the patients' specific needs, age, school or work schedule, daily activities, family demands, eating habits and health problems

When meeting with your diabetes educator, you might want to get answers to the following questions:

  • What do my blood sugar results mean, and when should I call my doctor?
  • What type of physical activity/exercise is right for me?
  • What do I need to know about healthy eating and meal planning?
  • What should be my "sick day" plan?
  • What should I do if I start to get sick at work?
  • How do my diabetes medications affect other prescription or over-the-counter drugs?
  • What should I do if I can't remember something we talked about?
Find a diabetes educator near you.

Dietitians can help you understand dietary dos and don'ts, a must for managing your diabetes. Being consistent about what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat is crucial, but without the help of a nutritional expert, it can be frustrating and confusing trying to figure it all out. Dietitians undergo rigorous academic training and extensive practical experience. Plus, they keep their food and nutrition knowledge up to date by completing ongoing professional education programs.


When meeting with your dietitian, you might want to get answers to the following questions:

  • How does food affect my blood glucose?
  • Can I eat foods with sugar in them?
  • How can I eat and keep my blood glucose levels at a healthy level?
  • Why should I eat about the same amount at the same times each day?
  • How much of each type of food should I eat each day?
  • What should I eat when I feel sick?
  • What foods can I eat a lot of?
  • Can I drink alcohol?
Learn more about what dietitians do and find one near you.

Your pharmacist can be a valuable resource for education and information about the medications you take for diabetes and other conditions. Pharmacists are trained in the science and clinical use of both prescription and over-the-counter medications.


Consider these helpful tips for building a successful relationship with your pharmacist:

  • Even though you may have several doctors, fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. Then all your medication records will be in one place, and your pharmacist can alert you to any potential drug interactions of medications prescribed by different doctors.
  • Check with your pharmacists before taking over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements since they can interact with your prescription medications and cause side effects.
  • Read the label. If you're unsure whether the medication is what your doctor prescribed or if the dosage seems incorrect, ask your pharmacist.
  • To prevent any adverse reactions, both your doctor and pharmacist should know all the allergies you have to medications, foods, or anything else.

To get the most from your medication, ask your pharmacist the following questions:

  • When is the best time to take this medication? Should it be taken before or after I eat?
  • How will this drug interact with my current medications?
  • Are there any foods I should avoid?
  • What are the side effects?
  • What is the best way to store this medication?
  • What should I do if I miss a dosage?
  • Is there a generic version of this medication?

Endocrinologists treat patients who have disorders of the endocrine gland, such as diabetes, as well as other problems like thyroid diseases and hormonal disorders. In many cases, your endocrinologist may become your primary doctor when it comes to managing your diabetes. If this becomes true for you, be prepared to talk about your lifestyle in detail and ask questions about your condition.

A podiatrist is certified and trained to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions associated with the foot and ankle. The American Diabetes Association recommends that all people with diabetes receive an annual foot exam to examine and assess their feet. Why? Because over time, 20-40 percent of people with diabetes develop neuropathy—nerve damage in their feet and lower legs. This loss of feeling may prevent patients from feeling heat, cold, or pain; in fact, they can even get cut or otherwise injured on their feet and legs and not realize it. Untreated cuts can lead to infections, ulcerations, and in severe cases, amputation.


As a preventive measure, your family doctor may send you to a podiatrist to help with early recognition and management of feet and leg issues. Your visits may be more frequent if you have other foot-risk conditions.

Your podiatrist will:

  • Check your pulses and the circulation in your feet
  • Look for cuts, bruises, or infections
  • Check the sensation in your feet
  • Educate you about:
    • Your risks
    • How to manage your feet
    • The importance of daily foot monitoring
    • Proper foot and nail care
    • Proper footwear

Ophthalmologists and optometrists are doctors who specialize in treating the eyes, which can be affected by diabetes. "Retinopathy" is a general term used for all disorders of the retina caused by diabetes, and it's very common in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.


Upon diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, patients are strongly advised to have a comprehensive eye exam right away by an ophthalmologist or optometrist who knows about diabetes and how to manage retinopathy. After that, yearly exams are recommended unless retinopathy is progressing.


 

Cardiologists are doctors who are specially certified to treat problems of the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart and arteries. Cardiologists also treat related conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chest pain, heart failure, heart attacks, stroke, congenital heart defects, and arrhythmia. Cardiologists may recommend a variety of tests to diagnose a patient's condition.

 


Role of Family & Friends

In addition to your health care team, your friends and family can be vital to managing your diabetes, helping with your emotional well-being, and supporting you in case of an emergency.

With diabetes, there are often important choices and items to remember about your health care. Having a friend or family member around to help you make those decisions can be helpful. Choose one member of your family to come with you to your health care visits and help you with your diabetes management.

Your health care providers are bound by law to keep your medical information confidential. However, your family members may wish to speak with them to get answers to questions and find support to deal with their feelings. If you are not opposed to this, you can provide your health care providers with a list of people with whom they have your permission to discuss your medical condition.


Diabetes