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Your Diabetes Healthcare Team

When you have diabetes, your healthcare team may include other providers in addition to your primary care provider. This team to help you manage your condition. You may see several healthcare providers every year who help keep you healthy. Your diabetes healthcare team may include the following experts.

Primary healthcare provider

This is the licensed healthcare provider you see for most healthcare visits. This includes yearly checkups and general care. He or she may be one of these:

  • Family practice doctor. This provider has a medical degree and has special training in family practice.

  • Internist. This provider has a medical degree and has special training in internal medicine.

  • Nurse practitioner. This provider is a registered nurse with extra medical training.

  • Physician’s assistant. This provider is trained to give health care under the direction of a doctor.

Endocrinologist

This is a licensed doctor who treats diseases of the endocrine system. This is the body’s system of hormones, and the organs that make them. It includes the pancreas, which makes the hormone insulin. Diabetes is one of the disorders of the endocrine system. You may not need to see this kind of doctor unless you’re having problems controlling your disease. Endocrinologists have a medical degree (MD) and extra training. 

Eye doctor

An eye doctor treats problems and diseases of the eyes. Diabetes can harm the blood vessels in the eye, and may affect vision. You should see an eye doctor at least once a year to prevent and treat eye problems from diabetes. An eye doctor may be either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. An optometrist has a licensed doctor of optometry degree. This means examining eyes for corrective lenses, and testing for vision problems. An ophthalmologist is a licensed medical doctor. He or she can diagnose and treat eye diseases, give medicine, and do surgery on the eyes.

Podiatrist

This kind of doctor focuses on the feet and lower legs. Diabetes can harm blood vessels in these areas. This can lead problems in healing. Any foot or leg sore needs to be treated right away to prevent a serious infection. A podiatrist has a licensed doctor of podiatric medicine degree from a college of podiatry.

Dentist

A dentist treats your teeth and gums. People with diabetes may be at higher risk of gum disease. Make sure to tell your dentist that you have diabetes. A dentist has a doctor of dental surgery or doctor of dental medicine degree from a dental school. He or she must be licensed in your state.

Nurses

These are healthcare providers who work with others on your healthcare team. A nurse may:

  • Give you an exam

  • Treat wounds

  • Give you medicine

  • Teach you about your condition

  • Coordinate your care among your providers

Nurses can be registered nurses, nurse practitioners, or clinical nurse specialists. Each of these has different levels of training and is licensed to give different care. A registered nurse has at least a 2-year university degree or a diploma from a nursing school. Many registered nurses have a university bachelor's degree (BSN). A registered nurse can get more training to become a nurse practitioner or a clinical nurse specialist. Both a nurse practitioner and a clinical nurse specialist can diagnose diseases and order treatments and tests.

Certified diabetes educator (CDE)

A CDE is someone who is trained and certified to teach people how to manage their diabetes. A CDE may be a doctor, nurse, dietitian, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider. A CDE is certified with a national test. He or she must take the test every 5 years.

Nurse educator

This is a registered nurse who teaches people how to manage their diabetes. They have special training in diabetes care and education. A nurse educator can teach you how to make lifestyle changes to manage your disease. He or she will teach you how to use your medicine and check your blood sugar. And you’ll learn the symptoms of high or low blood sugar. A nurse educator may be a certified diabetes educator (CDE). He or she may have a master’s degree.

Registered dietitian (RD)

An RD is a person who is trained to help people eat in a healthy way. An RD may have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree from an approved school. He or she has also finished an accredited program and passed a national exam. Not all RDs are trained to work with people with diabetes. Make sure to find an RD who has diabetes experience.

Exercise physiologist

This is a person who is trained in the best ways to do safe exercises. This provider can also design a fitness or exercise program for you. Exercise is important for a person with diabetes. It helps lower blood sugar levels, blood fat levels, and weight. An exercise physiologist has a master’s in exercise physiology. He or she may also be certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Occupational therapist (OT)

An OT helps you learn how to cope with your diabetes. This is so that it won't interfere with work or your daily life. Occupational therapists can help you give yourself an injection if you have vision problems. They can also offer advice on walking if you have an artificial foot or leg. They can also help if you have nerve damage from diabetes and are likely to be injured. Most OTs have a master's degree in occupational therapy. They are licensed in the state where they practice.

Pharmacist

This healthcare provider works in a drugstore or hospital or medical center. He or she is trained in dispensing and advising about how to use medicines safely.  A pharmacist knows which medicines interact with one another, and which may affect your blood sugar. This includes prescription and non-prescription medicines. He or she can also give advice about medicine side effects. A pharmacist must have a doctor of pharmacy degree and be licensed by your state’s board of pharmacy.

Mental healthcare provider

This is a person who can help you and your family understand the emotions that are part of living with diabetes. This type of provider can diagnose and treat problems caused by the stress of having a chronic condition. A number of different providers can give this care. A licensed clinical social worker has a master’s degree in social work and has passed a state exam. A psychologist has a master’s degree or doctorate in psychology. A psychiatrist has a medical degree. A marriage and family therapist has a master’s degree or doctorate in a mental health subject. All of these providers can help you with personal coping, as well as family emotional health. They will likely have training in individual, group, or family therapy. A social worker can also get you help with financial needs, training programs, and other resources. A psychiatrist can also prescribe medicine. A psychologist may be trained in other methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. This is therapy that helps a person change negative thoughts and actions.

What is a “diabetologist”?

If you’re looking for a new healthcare provider, you may see the term “diabetologist.” This means a medical professional who helps people manage their diabetes. But this is not an official, board certified title. Make sure to ask what kind of training and certification the person has.

Choosing diabetes healthcare providers

Questions to ask a new provider include:

  • Do you have any special training for treating diabetes?

  • How many of your patients have diabetes?

  • Do you treat people with mostly type 1 or mostly type 2 diabetes?

  • How often will I have blood tests, and other tests?

  • Do you accept my insurance plan? What are your billing policies?

  • Do you work with other diabetes care providers?

  • Will you send reports or records to my other healthcare providers as needed?

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth Greenblatt, RN, MEd
Online Medical Reviewer: Hurd, Robert, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
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