Just Diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes? What To Ask Your Healthcare Professional
By Michael Hattori
Michael Hattori, who has type 2 diabetes, shares several questions that you may consider asking your healthcare team when you are first diagnosed
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So, you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. It’s not the end of the world, although it may seem so at first. I remember when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I’ve been a nurse for 23 years, and it still knocked me for a loop, even though in the back of my head I kind of knew it was coming; I’d been experiencing symptoms of extreme thirst and having to pee all day and all night long. I knew what these symptoms meant, yet still could not get out of denial – “this can’t be happening to me!”
The diagnosis of diabetes is no small thing, but what does it mean for you? That uncertainty can be stressful. Learning as much about type 2 diabetes before you see your endocrinologist (diabetes doctor) will help you get ahead. We’re going to talk about things you should discuss with your healthcare team at your first appointment, and also in the future.
Ask yourself this question: what am I MOST concerned about? Make that your number one topic when you speak with your healthcare team (during COVID, you may have your first appointment by phone or video conference). Don’t try to get through every topic or concern you have – there just won’t be enough time in one appointment; and to be honest, sometimes your endocrinologist may not be the best resource for that – that’s where diabetes care and educations specialist (DCES, formerly known as certified diabetes educators or CDEs) can help.
Diabetes care and education specialists are healthcare professionals (nurses, dieticians, and pharmacists) who are specially trained in taking care of, and educating people with, diabetes – they will become your BEST friends! DCESs often have more time to spend with you, and many of them, like me, are people with diabetes. So not only are they up on diabetes, but they can also relate to your experiences and will often have tips and tricks that you won’t get from your other healthcare professionals.
One of the best things you can do to prepare for your first appointment after diagnosis is to put your thoughts in order. This will help you make the most of your limited time with your healthcare professional.
When I first found out I had type 2 diabetes, these are some of the questions that were running through my mind:
Oh no! What am I going to be able to EAT? I won’t be able to enjoy food anymore….
What drugs am I going to need to take? Am I going to have to be on insulin for the rest of my life?
I hate sticking my finger! (I had to do this in nursing school.) Am I going to have to do it several times a day now? Is there any other way?
What are people going to think? There is a perception that people get diabetes because they are lazy, or overweight…so there is a stigma associated with it.
How is this going to affect my lifestyle? My work? My family?
When I reorganized these questions – and prioritized them – I came up with a new list of questions. Here’s an example to help you get started. For more information on each topic, click on the links to other diaTribe articles. diaTribe is jam-packed with just about anything you might want to know about diabetes.
What is your main concern – what are you most worried about? What does having type 2 diabetes mean for you?
Food: Am I going to have to change the way I eat? Your healthcare team can help you set up a healthy eating plan.
Medications: Will I have to take medication? Can diabetes be managed with diet and exercise alone? What kind of side effects do the meds have? How long will I have to take them? Will my insurance pay for them?
Insulin: Do I need to take insulin? How does insulin work? Does it mean shots? How many times a day? I’ve heard that insulin is a “last resort” and that it means my diabetes is really bad – is that true? Will my insurance pay for insulin?
With type 2 diabetes, unless your blood sugars are very high, you probably won’t have to use insulin. More likely you will start with diet and exercise changes, and maybe oral medications depending on the severity of your diabetes. If you do have to take insulin to lower your blood sugar, you may be able to discontinue it later on and move on to oral medications. These are very important topics to cover with your healthcare team!
Monitoring: Do I have to prick my finger to check my blood sugar levels? How many times a day? Why is this important? What is a continuous glucose monitor, or CGM? Can I use one of those? What is time in range? What is Hemoglobin A1C?
Exercise: How much exercise do I have to do? Do I have to join a gym?
Work: How will this affect my work? Will I have to take time off?
Family: Should I involve my loved ones in my diabetes care? If you have a family, they can become your biggest help! Get them involved right from the get-go: have someone come along with you to your first appointment. Don’t see this as something that will separate you from your loved ones – this a great opportunity to bring people together for a common cause: YOU!
School: How will diabetes affect my education? This is a great thing to discuss with your DCES.
Insurance: How much will diabetes cost me? What will my insurance cover? What if it doesn’t?
As you go through these topics, make a list with the questions that are important to you. That way, you won’t forget, and you will have your questions right at hand to ask your healthcare team. It can be helpful to write down the answers you get – it’s easy to get overwhelmed with information at this beginning stage. Try to take things one step at a time and be sure you understand an answer before you move on to the next question.
One of the positive things about diabetes is that it is something that YOU can actually manage. That puts a lot of responsibility on you, but you really can affect the course of the disease with the decisions you make, and the behaviors you change. Being as educated and prepared as possible will put you on the path to successfully managing your diabetes.
Another positive note is that there has never been a better time to be diagnosed with diabetes. Not that there is any good time, but huge advances in technology and medications in the last five years have made it possible for people to manage their diabetes in ways that were unimaginable not long ago. For example, the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) has revolutionized how people measure their blood sugar levels, and with minimal to NO fingersticks (to read about how my CGM helped me achieve diabetes remission, click here).
The message here is: don’t lose hope! Believe me, I know how frightening and overwhelming it can be when you are first diagnosed. The great new is, you’re NOT alone! There are hundreds and hundreds of resources available to you through your healthcare team and the huge diabetes community, both in person and online. Make sure you take advantage of this support!
Michael Hattori has been a Registered Nurse for 23 years (including 19 years in the Operating Room), and is currently training to become a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2019. He has since achieved remission, but still closely follows the AADE 7 Self Care Behaviors to keep on track. He is a huge fan and major advocate of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) and attributes his remission in large part to CGM. Michael is an avid chef, photographer, musician, and fiber artist in his free time.
This article is a part of a series to support people newly diagnosed with diabetes funded in part by the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation.