What I Wish I Knew About Helping Patients Manage Their Type 2 Diabetes

<p>Photo Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine</p>

Photo Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine

Fact checked by Nick Blackmer

Approximately 34 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes. And for the most part, they manage the disease themselves.

Of course, people with type 2 diabetes receive support from a range of healthcare providers, including a primary care physician, endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in hormones), podiatrist (foot doctor), optometrist (eye doctor), nutritionist, and pharmacist. But it’s up to the person with the condition to go to and keep track of all those appointments.

It’s also on the person to take insulin or any other medication they may need to help control their diabetes and to make any recommended lifestyle changes.

“It’s a lot for a patient to manage,” Sudipa Sarkar, MD, director of the Inpatient Diabetes Management Service at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told Health.

Dr. Sarkar frequently connects with other specialists her patients see to try to ensure they’re getting the most comprehensive care. And she says it can be difficult at first for people with type 2 diabetes to learn to navigate all of the information and advice they receive.

Here’s what she’s learned about helping patients manage their own care—and what she wishes she had known about it earlier on.

What do you wish you had learned in school about managing all the information from different healthcare providers for your patients’ care?

Sudipa Sarkar, MD: Through my experience, I’ve learned that we as providers should do as much as we can on our end to help facilitate communication. I do what I can to reach out to other providers and come up with a consensus. I then go to my patient and say, ‘This is the consensus of the team.’ It’s often easier than them trying to reach out to each doctor to get answers to a specific question. But in school, we didn’t have any specific class on how to help patients synthesize information.

What do you wish you had learned in school about helping patients keep track of all of the information they receive?

Dr. Sarkar: I’ve learned that if I say something in the clinic, I should write it out for them. I put their name and date in an after-visit summary—that way, they have it written out and dated. It can be confusing if you’re not sure which visit advice came from.

What do you wish you had known about what it takes to manage diabetes for patients?

Dr. Sarkar: The more I see patients, the more I have a better understanding and compassion for them because diabetes care really is its own job—a full-time job. It really takes a lot of energy to manage diabetes. They’re oftentimes juggling jobs and taking care of their families. It’s an additional burden. I have, over time, come to understand and recognize that.

What do you wish you had known about helping patients understand the seriousness of diabetes?

Dr. Sarkar: Certainly for all my new patients and those I see in follow-ups, we talk about short-term and long-term complications of diabetes. Then we talk about things to have handy for patients who are on glucose-lowering medications and what to do if there is low or high glucose. I never try to scare patients—that’s not my job. But I try to help them understand the information I know. It’s a team effort. We have a diabetes nurse and educator; we work with dietitians and other specialists like cardiologists. We’re really here to help support and encourage our patients.

What do you wish you had known about helping patients control their glucose?

Dr. Sarkar: Over time, I’ve learned about specific factors that might have an effect on each patient’s diabetes control. I’ve learned to ask more questions about what their access to food is and whether it is safe to exercise outside their home. So many factors like where a person lives and if they have transportation affects their diabetes control. I also try to connect them to help, like if they need help with transportation and food resources if they have food instability. It’s something you learn over time with seeing more and more patients.

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Read the original article on Health.