Our survey respondents told us which health-care providers were most helpful in four important areas: diabetes education, symptom recognition, diet and nutrition, and controlling pain and disability. Results underscored the importance of building a comprehensive health-care team, as no single provider topped every category. It also identified the ones who seemed most helpful. Below is a list of the professionals to consider, along with a summary of our respondents' experience.
Primary-care physician. You need this doctor, usually an internist or family practitioner, to manage your overall health, refer you to other health-care providers, and coordinate your care. And for diabetes, you'll probably need such referrals because our survey found that general-practice doctors were less helpful than specialists when it came to giving detailed advice.
Endocrinologist. These doctors, who specialize in diabetes and other diseases of the endocrine system, scored near the top in helping patients understand and manage the disease, recognize symptoms, and control pain and disability. People with severe diabetes almost always need one, and others can probably benefit, too.
Certified diabetes educator. These are usually registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician's assistants, or registered dietitians with special training in diabetes and could be the most valuable member of your health-care team. Our survey respondents rated them at or near the top in every area, perhaps because they're more likely to have the time it takes to provide detailed advice on self-care, such as how to use your medications, check your blood sugar, watch for symptoms, and improve your health habits.
Registered dietitian. Dietary changes were important to our successful respondents, and not surprisingly, registered dietitians ranked well above other providers in offering nutritional advice. Look for one who is also a certified diabetes educator who has had special training and experience in diabetes.
Podiatrist. Because diabetes can interfere with blood flow and cause nerve damage in the feet, people with the disease run a high risk of infection even from seemingly harmless calluses or sores. Our survey confirmed the wisdom of placing a podiatrist, a specialist in foot care, on your health-care team, as respondents rated them among the most helpful in managing pain and disability.
Eye doctor. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the eye, but early treatment can be effective. So everyone with diabetes needs to see an ophthalmologist or an optometrist at least once a year, preferably a provider who often treats diabetes patients. Referral to a retinologist, an ophthalmologist who specializes just in the retina, may also be necessary.
Pharmacist. Almost all of our respondents told us that they take multiple medications, which increases the likelihood of dangerous drug interactions. Your pharmacist can catch potential problems, counsel you on side effects, and recommend safe over-the-counter products. Try to have all of your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy so that the pharmacist has a complete record of your medications. Also let your pharmacists know what over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements you take.