Woman with Diabetes Care TeamAs a person with diabetes, think of yourself as the leader of your healthcare team. The decisions you make every day will have the most significant impact on your health, so you’ll need to understand the condition and draft a team of experts to lend their support.

“Being the ‘captain’ empowers patients to take control of their diabetes and not feel victimized by their diagnosis,” says Dr. Patricia Bononi, Medical Director of the Joslin Diabetes Center affiliates at West Penn Hospital. “By taking charge of their health care team, patients can determine if providers are meeting their needs.”

While everyone needs to see his or her primary care physician regularly, people with diabetes and other chronic medical conditions may need to visit more often to avoid complications. Of the 8.3% of Americans who have Type 2 diabetes, two-thirds of them are likely to die from stroke or heart disease–typically at a younger age than people who don’t have diabetes. Identifying and treating the underlying problems, such as high blood pressure, that can lead to serious complications is key for living longer and healthier.

Primary Care Physician

Your doctor is likely to be your first line of contact for anything related to your health, including your diabetes care. You may also work with a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. These health care professionals will help you with the basics (like managing your weight and blood sugar) and refer you to specialists as needed.

Questions for your Primary Care Physician

Whether you’re newly diagnosed or you’ve been living with diabetes for years, you’ll probably have questions about your care. If you’re not sure what to ask, consider these questions:

  • When should I take my diabetes medication and what should I do if I miss a dose?
  • What types of medical tests should I have, when, and how often?
  • Are there special steps I should take to manage diabetes while traveling?
  • How often should I check my feet? What should I be looking for?
  • Can I exercise? What level of activity is safe for me?

Ophthalmologist or Optometrist

You also should plan to see your eye doctor at least once a year to make sure your eyes are healthy. Blood glucose levels and blood pressure can affect eye health, leading to blurry vision, floaters, or more serious complications. Seeing an ophthalmologist or optometrist regularly will help to identify any problems early, when it’s easier to take steps to preserve your eye health and vision.

Endocrinologist

An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in the body’s hormones, including insulin. These hormones control a wide range of activities in the body such as metabolism, reproduction, growth and development.

“Many patients with diabetes never need to see an endocrinologist,” admits Dr. Bononi, an endocrinologist herself. “Patients with Type 1 diabetes, which is caused by a lack of insulin, are more likely to need our help. Those with Type 2 diabetes, triggered by resistance to insulin’s effects, might visit an endocrinologist if they’re having trouble keeping their diabetes under control or are developing complications.”

Your primary care physician can refer you to an endocrinologist if you need one, or you can find one through the Highmark member site provider directory. Look for the website URL on the back of your ID card, register and log in, and go to the “Choose Providers” tab.

Podiatrist and Orthopedic Surgeon

People with diabetes need to pay close attention to the health of their feet and toenails to avoid some very serious foot health conditions.

Poor blood flow and nerve damage can lead to a condition called diabetic neuropathy, which can cause people with diabetes to lose feeling in their feet. When you can’t feel the pain of something as simple as a blister or callus, there’s a higher risk it will become infected. In extreme cases, that infection can turn into gangrene.

As the leader of your health care team, you’ll need to take a look at your feet regularly and report any changes to your doctors. Learn to spot foot health warning signs and take comfort knowing that podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons can help you if you’re having foot-related problems.

Dietitian

Dietary choices, including what you eat as well as when and how much, are extremely important when it comes to diabetes management. A dietitian can help you understand how blood sugar affects your body and help you find appropriate recipes (and write shopping lists).

Mental Health Professional

The stress of managing diabetes or coping with a diabetes diagnosis can sometimes lead to depression, sadness, or anger. Stress management is critical for people with diabetes because stress can affect your glucose levels, making it even harder to control your condition.

Other Health Care Professionals

This may feel like a long list of health care professionals, but there are even more who can help you with different aspects of diabetes management. You’ll want to talk to your dentist and your pharmacist, for example, and you may want to see an exercise specialist, or a diabetes educator.

No matter who or how many health care professionals you need on your team, it’s important to establish these relationships and follow up with each of your team-members on a regular basis.

Do you have diabetes? What advice can you offer on the subject of assembling a great health care team? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments!