Your Diabetes Care Team

A stethoscope lying on top of a calendar with a doctor appointment reminder note circled on calendar.

Managing diabetes means managing the health of the whole body. You’ll want to see various types of doctors who specialize in different areas on your diabetes health care team.

Diabetes can affect many parts of your body. So you’ll want to have various types of doctors who specialize in different areas on your diabetes health care team. Knowing which doctor to see and when to see them can help you manage diabetes and prevent complications.

The human body is a delicate and complex system. A breakdown in one part of the body can affect how other parts of your body perform. This is no different with diabetes. Managing diabetes means managing the health of the whole body. This is why you’ll want to have a diabetes care team that includes specialists from different fields. Your diabetes care team will help you develop a diabetes management plan to help you stay healthy and prevent any diabetes-related complications.

Like any important relationship in your life, you’ll want to find members for your diabetes care team who will listen, support, and respect you (also known as person-centered care). This means having a team that makes sure your preferences, needs, and values are used to help guide clinical decisions. Remember, you are the most important member of your diabetes care team. The other specialists will depend on you to tell them your needs, priorities, and feelings. Having the right diabetes care team can set you up for diabetes management success.

The “Who’s Who” of Your Person-Centered Care Team

People living with diabetes should work with a team that combines long-term treatment approaches and maintains communication and goal setting among all team members. “So, who should be on my team?” Glad you asked! Below is a list of health care professionals you might need and the roles they’ll play in managing your diabetes.

Primary Care Provider (PCP)

This doctor is usually your general or family doctor who gives you routine medical care. You will typically see your PCP for general care, such as yearly checkups, physical exams, and lab tests, and to write prescriptions. When you have diabetes, you’ll want to see this doctor at least once a year, or more often, if recommended.

Endocrinologist

This is a doctor who specializes in the body’s hormones. Because diabetes affects how your body produces and uses insulin (a hormone), your primary care provider may want you to see an endocrinologist. It’s not unusual for an endocrinologist to become the primary doctor to manage your diabetes.

Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

This health care professional is trained to provide personalized diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES). DSMES helps people with diabetes gain the knowledge and decision-making skills needed for diabetes self-care. Diabetes education is a recognized part of your diabetes care. And it’s covered by Medicare and most health insurance plans when it’s offered through an accredited diabetes education program. As a member of your care team, a diabetes care and education specialist makes managing your diabetes easier. You’ll work together to create a diabetes management plan that’s specific to your health needs, lifestyle, and culture. Ask your doctor for a referral to DSMES to get personalized help managing your diabetes. Find a diabetes education program in your area.

Registered Dietitian

A dietitian is an expert in nutrition and trained to help people eat in a healthy way. Working with a dietitian can help you get the support to develop healthy eating patterns to improve your overall health. They also help you:

  • Reach and maintain body weight goals.
  • Reach blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol goals.
  • Delay or prevent diabetes complications.

Not all dietitians are trained to work with people with diabetes. You’ll want to make sure to find one who is trained in diabetes care.

Ophthalmologist or Optometrist

This specialist, also known as an eye doctor, can diagnose and treat problems and diseases of the eyes. Diabetes may affect your vision by damaging blood vessels in the eyes. You’ll want to schedule an eye exam as soon as you receive a diabetes diagnosis. This will help your eye doctor monitor any changes to your vision and eye health. After your first exam, it’s best to see an eye doctor at least once a year (or more often if recommended by your eye doctor). This can help catch eye problems early and prevent vision loss.

An eye doctor could be either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. Here’s the difference:

  • An optometrist (OD) is a doctor of optometry who provides primary vision care. This means they can diagnose and treat some eye diseases and disorders, give you an eye exam, and test for vision problems. People usually use their vision insurance to see this type of eye doctor.
  • An ophthalmologist (MD) is a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care. An ophthalmologist can diagnose and treat all eye diseases and disorders. Because they are a medical doctor, they can also prescribe medicine and perform eye surgery. People usually use their medical insurance to see this type of eye doctor.

Podiatrist

This kind of doctor treats the feet and lower legs. Diabetes can harm the blood vessels and nerves in your legs and feet. This can cause healing problems if you get a cut or blister, which can become a hard-to-treat infection. You’ll want to see a podiatrist at least once a year to get a complete foot exam. The best way to prevent foot complications is to check your feet daily. If you notice any sores on your feet or legs, don’t wait for your next appointment. See a foot doctor right away.

Audiologist

This doctor specializes in hearing and balance disorders. Diabetes can damage small blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. You should have your hearing tested when you first find out you have diabetes. Hearing loss can happen slowly and can be hard to notice. So it’s best to see an audiologist at least once a year to monitor your hearing. If you think you have hearing loss, ask your doctor for a referral.

Pharmacist

This health care professional knows about different types of medicine and how to use them safely. A pharmacist can fill your prescriptions and tell you which medicines (prescription and over-the-counter) can affect your blood sugar and which ones shouldn’t be used together.

Dentist

A dentist is trained to take care of your teeth and gums. People with diabetes may have a higher risk of gum disease. Visit a dentist at least once a year (more often if recommended), even if you have no natural teeth or have dentures. And let them know that you have diabetes.

Nephrologist (kidney doctor)

This doctor specializes in disorders of the kidneys and diseases that can affect them like diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar and high blood pressure from diabetes can damage your kidneys. If your PCP or endocrinologist notices that your kidneys don’t work as well as they should, they may send you to a nephrologist. Because having diabetes increases your risk of kidney disease, your PCP should check your kidneys regularly.

Mental Health Professional

Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors can all provide mental health care. These professionals can help you manage the demands of day-to-day diabetes care, as well as mental health issues. If you’re concerned about your mental health, let your doctor know. They can refer you to a mental health professional who can help.

Exercise Specialist

This is a person who is trained in the best and safest ways to get physical activity ─ especially if you have a physical disability that affects your ability to be active. An exercise specialist can be a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or personal trainer. They can help you with structured physical activity, like an exercise session, or unstructured, like taking a walk, or anything else that decreases the time you spend sitting. Check with your doctor before starting any physical activity routine.

Your Home Team

Know that you don’t have to go it alone. Your diabetes care team is there to support you and answer any questions or concerns you may have. And don’t forget about your home team. Your friends, family, and diabetes peers can also be important to helping you manage your diabetes. With your care team and your home team in place, you’re sure to be on the winning path.