The Right Health Care Team to Treat Diabetes: Tips from Type 1 Patients

Having the right support makes all the difference.

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Type 1 diabetes management can get reduced to insulin management and blood sugar checks, but controlling all aspects of diabetes requires a troop of medical support. This is not a job for your primary care doc alone.

“Diabetes is not treated by just having one practitioner,” says Liz Van Voorhis, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 15. According to the American Diabetes Association, a typical type 1 diabetes patient should see specialists in endocrinology, vision, diabetes education, nutrition, foot health, dentistry—and the list goes on.

Making room for those new medical experts in your life can be overwhelming, but they’re there to make your life easier and, importantly, healthier. Here’s what these patients have learned about building a strong team for treating type 1 diabetes (and how to make their visits more effective).

Go beyond the endocrinologist

“I typically see my endocrinologist about every three months. … I want to make sure I’m having my blood tested—a fasting blood test—so they can check my A1C, which is super important. I see an eye doctor once a year to get a dilated retina exam. I typically will see a podiatrist once every couple of years, although I know I should probably see the podiatrist once a year.

“Another thing I think is really important that a lot of my friends and the people who I know who are diabetic don’t think much about is our hearing. As diabetics, we’re actually twice as likely to have hearing loss than our non-diabetic peers. So I make sure I have my hearing tested once a year as well.”

—Craig Kasper, diagnosed at age 27

Know what’s important to you

“I see all my specialists once a year, and I try to cluster my visits around my birthday. It makes it an easy way to remember.

“I find the most important thing working with my doctors is really communicating what’s important to me, because if they don’t know, it’s hard for them to help me. I think it makes the whole visit better.”

—Riva Greenberg, diagnosed at age 18   

Make sure your doctor is a true partner

“Over the last 10 or so years, I’ve really learned that having a good endocrinologist that is a partner and not just a doctor is incredibly important. … I’m not looking for somebody who wants to see me once or twice a year, share my blood sugars, and that’s it. I’m looking for somebody who is willing to talk with me in between.

“I’ve been very fortunate that both of my endocrinologists in recent years are type 1 diabetics themselves, and I think that that really makes a big difference in how they care for their patients, and their empathy and understanding of what it’s like to live with diabetes.”

—Liz Van Voorhis, diagnosed at age 15

For more real talk from patients, here are common myths about type 1 diabetes, how to prevent low blood sugar, and tips for getting through the day with type 1 diabetes.