Your Diabetes Healthcare Team
As a person with diabetes, you will have a healthcare team to help you manage your condition. You may see several healthcare providers every year. They will help keep you healthy. Your diabetes care team may include:
- Primary healthcare provider
- Eye doctor
- Certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES)
- Nurse educator
- Registered dietitian (RD)
- Exercise physiologist
- Occupational therapist (OT)
- Physical therapist (PT)
- Mental healthcare provider
You can learn more about these types of providers below.
Primary healthcare provider
This is the licensed healthcare provider you see for most healthcare visits. This includes yearly checkups and general care. They may be one of these:
Family practice doctor. This type of doctor is trained to treat all members of families. This includes both children and adults.
Internist. This type of doctor has extra training in internal medicine. They focus on the diagnosis and treatment of sudden (acute) and ongoing (chronic) illnesses.
Nurse practitioner (NP). An NP is an advanced trained registered nurse. They coordinate with your medical doctor and other providers to manage your diabetes. They can give exams and write prescriptions.
Physician’s assistant (PA). This provider gives healthcare under the direction of a medical doctor. They can also do things such as give you an exam and write you prescriptions.
This is a 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. The pancreas makes the hormone insulin. You may need to see this kind of doctor if you’re having problems controlling your disease. They will check to see if you have other endocrine diseases. These diseases are more common in people with diabetes.
A diabetologist is a medical professional, such as a medical doctor, dietician, or other advanced provider with extra training and focus on diabetes. Ask what kind of training and certification the person has. Many endocrinologists are also certified in diabetes.
Eye doctors: optometrist and ophthalmologist (MD)
An eye doctor treats problems and diseases of the eyes. Diabetes can harm the blood vessels in the eye. This may affect vision. You should see an eye doctor at least once a year. This will help to prevent and treat eye problems caused by diabetes. An eye doctor may be either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.
- Optometrist. This is a Doctor of Optometry. This means they can examine eyes and test for vision problems.
- Ophthalmologist. This is a medical doctor. They can diagnose and treat eye diseases. They can also give medicine and do eye surgery.
This kind of doctor treats the feet and lower legs. Diabetes can harm the blood vessels and nerves in these areas. This can lead to problems in healing. Any foot or leg sore needs to be treated right away. This can help to prevent a serious infection.
A dentist treats your teeth and gums. People with diabetes may be at higher risk for gum disease. Tell your dentist that you have diabetes.
These are healthcare providers who work with others on your team. A nurse may:
Give you an exam
Give you medicine
Teach you about your condition
Organize your care among your providers
A nurse can get extra training to become a certain type of nurse. Each type needs a different kind of training. The duties are also different. Types of nurses include:
- Registered nurse (RN)
- Nurse practitioner (NP)
- Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
An RN can get more training to become an NP or a CNS. Both an NP and a CNS can diagnose diseases. They can also order treatments and tests.
Certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES)
A CDCES is trained to teach people how to manage their diabetes. A CDCES may be a doctor or nurse. They may be a dietitian, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider.
This is a type of registered nurse. They teach people how to manage their diabetes. They have extra training in diabetes care and education. A nurse educator can teach you how to make lifestyle changes to manage your disease. They will teach you how to use your medicine. They will also show you how to check your blood sugar. You’ll learn the symptoms of high or low blood sugar. A nurse educator may be a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES).
Registered dietitian (RD)
An RD is trained to help people eat in a healthy way. They have finished a special program and passed a national exam. Not all RDs are trained to work with people with diabetes. Make sure to find an RD who is trained in diabetes care.
This is a person who is trained in the best ways to do safe exercises. They can also make a fitness program for you. Exercise is important for a person with diabetes. It helps lower blood sugar levels, blood fat levels, and weight.
Occupational therapist (OT)
An OT helps you learn how to cope with your diabetes. They will help you manage it around your work and daily life. An OT can help you give yourself a shot if you have vision problems. They can help you learn how to walk with an artificial foot or leg. They can also help you prevent injury if you have nerve damage from diabetes and are more at risk.
Physical therapist (PT)
Physical therapists will evaluate your strength, flexibility, endurance, balance, and skin sensation (especially in your feet). They can help create a plan that will improve your ability to move, do daily activities, and reduce pain. PTs have graduate degrees and have passed a licensing exam before they can practice.
This healthcare provider works in a drugstore, hospital, or medical center. They are trained in giving medicines and advising how to use them safely. A pharmacist knows which medicines shouldn't be used together. And they know which ones may affect your blood sugar. This includes prescription and nonprescription medicines. They can also give advice about medicine side effects.
Mental healthcare provider
Coping with diabetes can cause stress for both you and your family. A mental healthcare provider can help you and your family manage this stress. Different types of providers can give this care. They may do individual, group, or family therapy. The types of providers include:
- Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). This type of provider has a master’s degree in social work and has passed a state exam. This professional can provide mental health therapy in individual, family, and group settings.
- Social worker. This person has a bachelor's degree in social work. They can help you find community support services, financial aid, and other resources.
- Psychologist. This type of provider has a master’s degree or doctorate in psychology. They may be trained in other methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps a person change negative thoughts and actions.
- Psychiatrist. This is a type of medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. They can also prescribe medicine.
- Marriage and family therapist. This type of provider has a master’s degree or doctorate in a mental health subject.
Choosing diabetes healthcare providers
Check that your healthcare team members are board certified or licensed for their specialty. This means they have special training and the approval of an official group. Ask questions such as:
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?