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Putting People With Diabetes First: The Evolution of Diabetes Education

The Diabetes Education Study Group (DESG) hosted a panel at this year’s EASD in which panelists provided an overview of recent evidence supporting education about diabetes management; the group’s focus on people with diabetes is so important.

Diabetes education is a key component of diabetes management. On the opening day of EASD 2022, a group of experts from the Diabetes Education Study Group (DESG) discussed how new approaches to patient education can better support people with diabetes in managing their condition.

Education has increasingly become a key component of effective diabetes treatment. New insulin delivery devices, glucose monitoring, and various new medications mean little if people with diabetes are not aware of how to use them. With the invention of new treatments and therapies comes the need for people with diabetes to learn and understand how to use these tools to live happier and healthier lives. 

After the discovery of insulin 100 years ago, the need for diabetes education became clear – to learn how to inject this life-saving drug. And methods of education have shifted – in the past, doctors simply gave orders without trying to understand their patient.

“Now, physicians try to prioritize the needs of the person with diabetes, said Professor Tatjana Milenkovic of the Medical Faculty in Skopje, North Macedonia. She called education the “new empowering model” with the goal to “enable [people with diabetes] to cope with their disease every day.”

Diabetes self-management education today aims to help people with diabetes learn as much as possible, potentially change their behaviors, and successfully treat their diabetes. 

“Diabetes education should be evaluated according to diabetes knowledge, skills, motivation, and behavior,” Milenkovic said. She added that helping people shift their diabetes self-care behaviors is perhaps the most important goal, since permanent changes in behavior can lead to long-lasting results. 

Several studies demonstrate the power of diabetes education. For example, evidence from the DESMOND program (Diabetes Education and Self Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed) in the UK showed that structured diabetes education for those newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes helped people lose weight, quit smoking, and led to overall improvement in their health status. Another study from 2018 showed that four of five studies measuring quality of life reported significant improvements for people who received diabetes self-management education.  

Overall, the benefits of a structured diabetes education program include improved glucose management, improved quality of life, higher patient satisfaction, lower risk for complications, increased patient follow-up, and decreased healthcare costs. 

Challenges to good diabetes education include the availability and access to educational resources, negative perceptions about diabetes, and the cost of diabetes education, Milenkovic said. 

“There is no one-size-fits-all method of delivery,” she said, adding that educational programs should be tailored to meet the learning needs of the person with diabetes. Rather than the more-paternalistic model that was common in the past, diabetes education has evolved to put the person with diabetes at the center.

When healthcare providers take time to inform people about how to manage their condition and fully understand their needs, it can actually make it easier for providers to more quickly prescribe the proper treatment. Consequently, this can help prevent complications. 

In sum, education about therapies and management for people with diabetes should enable them to “acquire and maintain abilities that allow them to optimally manage their lives with their disease,” Milenkovic said. 

For more about finding a diabetes education program, read: