Why Do I Need to See a Diabetes Educator?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects more than 23 million people in the United States. If managed well, people with diabetes can live normal, healthy lives. However, the many devastating effects of uncontrolled or poorly controlled diabetes are fairly well known: Diabetes, which increases a person's chances of heart attack or stroke by 200% to 400%, respectively, is the seventh leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult blindness, kidney failure and lower-limb amputation. But with proper management and control through daily food, fitness, medication and lifestyle choices, people with diabetes can reduce their risk of diabetes related complications.

That said, diabetes is largely a "self-care" disease, which means that most of the time, you are in charge of many day-to-day decisions that affect your condition. This responsibility puts an individual with diabetes in the driver’s seat of their personal care team—and that's a lot of pressure!

So what's the most important tool you need to successfully manage diabetes? Knowledge.

There is a lot of information available about diabetes. In the information age, there is certainly no shortage of diabetes related books, cookbooks, websites, and magazines. Unfortunately, information about diabetes is not always credible and some of the information out there is just flat-out incorrect or bad advice. How do you decide whether the information you read or hear about diabetes is safe and reliable? Fortunately, you don’t have to do this on your own. A diabetes educator can help!

A Certified Diabetes Educator is a qualified professional—typically, a registered nurse, registered dietitian, or a pharmacist— that provides diabetes self-management education (DSME) or diabetes self-management training (DSMT). The American Association of Diabetes Educators defines DSMT as a collaborative process through which people with or at risk for diabetes gain the knowledge and skills needed to change behavior and successfully self-manage diabetes and its related conditions. DSMT typically focuses on the following seven behaviors—sometimes referred to as the AADE7 TM Self-Care Behaviors:
  1. Healthy eating
  2. Being active
  3. Monitoring
  4. Taking medication
  5. Problem solving
  6. Healthy coping
  7. Reducing risks
Your diabetes educator will help you understand what is going on inside your body. You'll learn the best methods of daily self-care and how everyday decisions regarding physical activity, meal planning, testing your blood sugar, taking your medication, and checking your feet all impact your condition—and your risk for the complications. Finally, a diabetes educator can explain the basic diabetes care you should be receiving from their doctor such as A1C testing, foot exams, blood pressure, and cholesterol checks.

While there is typically a fee charged to receive diabetes education from a Certified Diabetes Educator, it is important to note that many health insurance plans, including Medicare, cover this cost. Contact your insurance carrier to make certain that your plan covers diabetes self-management education. If you are uninsured, you may be able to find free or reduced cost programs through your local health department or hospital. Even if you have to pay some money out of pocket, it will be a very important investment in your health!

While SparkPeople offers many free resources and tools for people with diabetes (created by registered dietitians and certified diabetes educators), these are no substitute for the personalized education and detailed knowledge you'll gain by visiting a diabetes educator near you. Because of the positive impact it can have on diabetes care and diabetes outcomes, it is highly recommended that all individuals with diabetes meet with a diabetes educator. Talk with your doctor or visit www.DiabetesEducator.org to find a diabetes educator in your area.


Diabetes Education Fact Sheet from the American Association of Diabetes Educators (www.diabeteseducator.org).

Diabetes Statistics from the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org).
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Member Comments

Education is the key but I've found I had to educate myself. Like a few of the posters here my diabetes educator was not the best. I've been to a few others and some were OK, some not so OK but none were great, nor did they follow up. Report
When I was diagnosed, our insurance provider made you go to 8 hours of class. Received a Book with info, a wellness instructor, and lots doctors to provide us with help including a psychologist who showed and told us how our mental health played a big part in keeping our diabetes under control. I am many years into this program and they have never wavered in their support of us. Report
Yes. Education is very important. I was in my 40's when my first primary doctor said false positives are common, and I didn't have diabetes. I took my lab results to a new primary, who said a fbt over 120 is considered diabetic (mine had been creeping up steadily for 6 years when it hit 236); he handed me a bunch of pamphlets, a bunch of pills, a test kit, and made an appointment with a dietitian. I went home, read everything, and did what the pamphlets said. At the appointment, the dietitian gave me a bunch of paperwork, then a booklet with questions for me to answer. I completed the booklet at the meeting, she went over my answers, then said there wasn't anything she could tell me that I didn't already know. I was embarrassed for taking her time, then went home. Nobody needs that kind of diabetes educator. Report
Thanks much for the article. I've been diabetic over half my life and think I know everything - but I need reminders and guidance. Periodically visiting a diabetes educator is a good idea. Report
I am lucky. Having been diagnosed as pre-diabetic I was given a Rx but also told to lose eeight, exercise & reduce stress. My employer offered health & wellness classes,12 hrs a yr per employee, so I went. We also got to meet w/ a dietitian once a year. Very helpful so btwn that & SP, I've done well - not great but that was on me. Now retired I am much more diligent & getting a referral to a diabetes educator thru Medicare upstairs in my dr's bldg. Report
I was told all I need to know was on the internet. Follow an 1800 cal diet and keep carbs under 40 Per day. Following this my A1C has gone from 5.7 yo 6.9. I have gained weight, FBS 150 and not on med. Last visit was told to keep trying. Ugh. I exercise regularly, so much so that I have bursitis and tendonitis of the hip from getting so many steps. Report
Thanks for a great article! Report
Very interesting. Thank you. Report
This is a great article and so very true! Report
interesting Report
Knowledge is power. Report
Our insurance company depends on you going to wellness and diabetic classes and keeps up with your numbers to give benefits. Report
I see my diabetes educator regularly. Report
I belong to a horrible health care system where I was recently diagnosed with T2 diabetes (based solely on a single borderline A1c result) and was told it was my own fault for "eating all those sweets and not exercising enough." The crummy doctor who told me that didn't even ASK me what I eat - because I have never had a sweet tooth and have never eaten a lot of sugar. I told her I have always exercised regularly, which is the truth, but she dismissed me saying, "obviously whatever you're doing isn't working." Then she promised to put me in touch with a Diabetes Educator and I never heard from her again. I'm not obese, I exercise regularly, I eat a healthy diet, and I STILL have a degree of insulin resistance (whether full blown T2 or not, that is still not settled in my mind.) So what is a diabetes educator going to do to help me? The assumption is that T2 diabetics just need to stop eating sweets and exercise. But some of us don't fall into that category, believe it or not. Report
Education is the key. The more you know the better you are. For some one who lives with diabetes, it is a daily motivation to keep myself healthier. Great article!!! Report


About The Author

Amy L. Poetker
Amy L. Poetker
Amy Poetker is a licensed and registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with a master's degree in dietetics. Amy, who has spent most of her career working in diabetes education, is dedicated to the treatment of that disease and the prevention of related complications. See all of Amy's articles.