By Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE,CDN
Because diabetes is a disease that affects so many parts of your body (your eyes, your pancreas, your kidneys, your feet) and demands attention in so many aspects of your daily life (your diet, your fitness routine, your medication schedule), one single doctor—even a great one—may not be able to provide you with the level of detailed care you need. You will quickly see that having a group of people working with and for you can ease the burden of trying to make the best decisions for your own care. Below is a description of the different types of health care providers you’ll want to have on your diabetes dream team.
1. Primary care provider
(Doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant) – The primary care provider is the person you see for routine medical visits, including management of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. He or she will examine you, assess your condition, order tests, and make recommendations for your care. Your primary care provider may refer you to others for diabetes specific care.
Endocrinologist specializes in hormonal illnesses and glandular problem like thyroid, pancreas, ovaries, adrenal glands, and everything in between. Because diabetes is basically a hormone imbalance related to the way your pancreas produces or processes insulin, diabetes is a specialty of many endocrinologists. Your primary care provider may refer you to an endocrinologist who can evaluate your condition if your diagnosis is complex— if you are on multiple medications, on an insulin pump, use more than one type of insulin, or just can’t seem to get your condition under control.
An ophthalmologist is a specialist who is qualified to deliver total eye care including, eye examinations and surgical eye care. Diabetes affects the blood vessels of the eyes and can cause problems, and even blindness, if your diabetes is not well controlled. You should see your eye doctor at least once a year. If you are experiencing eye problems you may need to go more frequently.
Diabetes affects the nerves and blood circulation, making your feet and lower legs vulnerable to injury or infection. A podiatrist will examine your feet and provide immediate treatment for any foot and lower-leg problems that you experience. You should examine your feet every day so that you can alert your podiatrist right away to any problems you notice. The tiniest unintended injury can worsen until you wind up facing an amputation.
5. Registered dietitian
The relationship between diabetes and what, when, and how you eat is critical. For that reason, your doctor may suggest that you visit a dietitian for help better managing your diabetes diet. A registered dietitian is trained in the science of diet modifications to help you reach optimal health and to control illnesses such as diabetes.
A nurse may help with your treatment and is likely to teach you about diabetes monitoring and treatment, as well as self-management. Some nurses are specialists in diabetes with additional training and experience. They can teach you how to take your medications, give yourself insulin, monitor your blood sugars, recognize symptoms of high and low blood sugars, and how to handle sick days.
7. Diabetes educator
A diabetes educator is an expert at helping people with diabetes gain knowledge and self-management skills needed to take care of themselves and their diabetes, and any problems that may result from diabetes. Your diabetes educator may also be a dietitian, nurse, pharmacist, or physician.
A pharmacist is trained to prepare, distribute, and educate patients about medicines. Pharmacists check for possible drug interactions or side effects from prescribed medicines for people with diabetes. Pharmacists also may help keep track of how well the medicines you are taking are working