Engaging With Your Health Care Team


Being diagnosed with diabetes is often an overwhelming and confusing time, no doubt about it. There is so much to learn, so much to remember, and the emotional side of it is often daunting, right? So at this point, why don't you take a moment and just...breathe.

A Diabetes Doctor Success Story

While you're breathing, let me tell you a pretty amazing story. 

I recently went to a new diabetes eye doctor for a check-up. I was nervous about this visit because my previous eye doctor was extremely judgmental, dismissive and just plain rude. His mindset was Do as I say and don't ask any questions. (He sure didn't know me very well, but I digress.) It was just awful, and when an appointment was coming up, my stomach would often be in knots, I couldn't sleep and I knew this was not working for me. So, as difficult as it was to find a new doctor, I admitted to myself that this man was not willing to partner with me in any way and I had to do something. I knew how important it is to stay on top of my eye health. It's MY eyesight after all. 

The day arrived for my first appointment with my new eye doctor. He came into the room with my chart, shook my hand, sat down, looked me straight in the eye and said, "Before we talk about your eyes, I just want to say how impressed I am with how well you've managed your type 1 diabetes for 29 years. I know how hard that must be and you should be proud of yourself." 

What did he just say? Did I hear him correctly? I was stunned. Never, ever has a new doctor said that to me in an opening statement. I couldn't believe it. And from that moment to this day, I'm so grateful to have found this gem as this doctor continues to partner with me in every way possible. He takes everything into consideration including my work, my family, my insurance coverage AND my eyesight. He is insightful enough to understand how all of this works together to help me create optimal eye health. We need more of this type of health care partnering. So how do you begin to surround yourself with a solid team who wants to partner with, and empower you to create the best overall outcome?

Finding Your Health Care Team

I'm not naive enough to think that everyone always has a choice in which doctor they choose. As we are all painfully aware, insurers often dictate which doctor or group of doctors are in-network vs out-of-network, blah blah blah. But even when you're stuck in that conundrum (I am), it's still possible to seek out the best possible option within those parameters. At the very least, we can try, right? 

The first thing to remember is that your diabetes doctor works for you. You are partners, you're a team. You pay him/her to use their expertise to help you, NOT the other way around. And the goal is to stay as healthy as you can while having a good life, right? So it's important to establish right from the start that you want a good outcome and you would like to have this office help get you there. But always remember, they work for you. 

The second thing to remember is that it's important to interview your new doctor. Yes, you read that line correctly. Its critical that you understand how their office works with people with diabetes. What is their strategy? How do they partner with their patients? Does this approach work for your situation? Many of us are used to going to the doctor's office and getting broad-stroked and generalized instructions on how to take care of one issue or another, but with diabetes, a generalized idea coupled with unrealistic or unattainable goals doesn't often work. Diabetes is a 24/7, individual job and unless your doctor lives with you, there is no way for him or her to monitor your daily routine. So as you probably already know, YOU have to drive your own bus. It is up to you to be as educated and informed as you can while receiving guidance, encouragement and help from your health care team. But ultimately, you are the executive director of your health and they are your project managers.

How to Interview a Doctor

For your first meeting, ask to sit in the doctor's back office rather than the exam room to consult with you about your care (this doesn't always work, but it does let them know that you mean business). Tell the doctor that you appreciate him/her taking the time to talk with you before they examine you. Have your questions written down and tell the doctor that you did that so that you don't forget anything. This shows him/her that you respect their time as well as yours. When asking your questions, use the term, this office not your office or you. 

Here are some helpful interview questions: 

  1. What can I expect when I come in for my on-going appointments? 
  2. How often am I expected to come in for my diabetes checkup? 
  3. What is the goal for my A1c and how does this office help me get there? 
  4. If I'm struggling or burnt out about my diabetes, does this office offer emotional or mental health services? 
  5. How will this office work with my insurance company? 
  6. Is there a point person that will help me navigate my insurance issues? 
  7. What type of on-going diabetes education and support does this office offer? 
  8. What is the procedure for an emergency situation? 

Remember... They work for you. You are a team. You should feel good about those you're trusting to partner with you on all levels of your care. Good luck! 


About Peg Abernathy:

 Peg Abernathy is a writer, activist and spokesperson for diabetes awareness, education and legislative reform. Her media work includes four years as a contributing diabetes columnist on The Huffington Post and three years as producer, writer and on-air talent, Sirius Radio, The Lime Network. Her diabetes sales and sales training corporate career includes early tenure at two successful insulin pump start-ups as well as various blood glucose monitoring companies. She has also served as a consultant in the diabetic retinopathy space. Ms. Abernathy is a current member of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Community Leadership Board, Los Angeles, California and former Chair of the ADA Advocacy Committee, Los Angeles. 

Follow her on twitter: @diabetesmedia



Posted in Blog, Guest Authors, Tips, Your Health Care Team

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