You know managing type 2 diabetes can bring challenges, but you shouldn’t feel that way in your doctor’s exam room. If you feel you have unanswered questions about your condition, you may be able to find ways to share your concerns and get better care. Being your own advocate and speaking up is key to managing type 2 diabetes.
What is self-advocacy?
Self-defense represents your own interests and you manage your own situation. It will help you find, evaluate and use information for your health. Learning to be your own advocate can help you feel like you’re in control of your type 2 diabetes, rather than the other way around, says Sneha Srivastava, MD, a diabetes care and education specialist in Chicago.
Learn what you can know about type 2 diabetes
You want to educate yourself and put a healthy living plan into action, while understanding that you may need to adjust your plan along the way. “It is important to know as much as possible about type 2 diabetes. It is the knowledge plus the action that leads to healthy blood sugar levels and the absence of complications associated with high blood sugar,” says Srivastava.
To get started, learn about your numbers (A1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels) and what they mean. Familiarize yourself with the technology options you may have, advises Srivastava. There are apps and devices that can help you manage different aspects of diabetes. This includes free phone apps to record what you eat or continuous glucose meters that can measure your blood sugar.
“Understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of your medication,” Srivastava says. “There are now medications that help lower blood sugar, protect your kidneys or heart, or help you achieve a healthy weight. And sometimes, depending on what type of insurance you have or if you have it, there are ways to choose the right medications that are also affordable.”
Lifestyle also has a big impact. Following your treatment plan helps prevent complications such as heart disease, nerve damage, and blindness. Habits like watching your intake of refined carbohydrates, staying active, and managing stress can keep you from taking medication.
This may all seem like a big ask at first. For help, you can ask for a referral to a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (DCES). They will guide you through any concerns or problems and know what to expect at your next appointment.
How to stand up for yourself when faced with care disparities
Diabetes affects more than 34 million people in the United States, but it doesn’t affect all communities equally, according to the CDC. Managing type 2 diabetes can be especially important for black, Native American, and Hispanic men and women. These groups are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but often face an uphill battle when it comes to diagnosis and treatment.
“There are very real statistics showing that people of color have higher rates of type 2 diabetes and diabetes complications. What contributes to this disparity is the injustice and unequal access to care and resources that exists in some societies,” says Srivastava.
“Being your own advocate is essential,” says Srivastava. According to her, this means ensuring that:
- It’s all on your diabetes checklist are taken up.
- You are referred to the appropriate specialists as soon as you need to see them.
- You feel respected and heard.
- Your values, culture and preferences are considered in your care.
If you don’t feel that’s the case, says Srivastava, you have the right to find a health care provider who will do all of this and make you feel part of the team. “Regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, diabetes can be managed in a healthy way [with care] based on the patient’s preferences.
Work with your healthcare team
Diabetes can affect you from head to toe, so make sure you get a referral to get your eyes checked, your teeth cleaned, your feet checked, lab tests done, and anything else in between. It takes a medical team to help keep you at your best with type 2 diabetes.
“Knowing where to get your information is just as important as the information itself,” says Srivastava. “Your health care team can help you navigate finding the right resources. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed because there is so much information about diabetes, but you don’t need to know it all at once.”
How to be a self advocate
Be open and honest. Don’t be afraid of being judged. Even if you are not comfortable talking, try to push yourself. If something isn’t working, your doctors may not know if you don’t tell them. It can mean a difference in your care and quality of life.
“It’s very normal to be hesitant or feel uncomfortable when bringing up what you might need for diabetes care during medical appointments,” says Srivastava. “It can be overwhelming, and at times, you may feel rushed into appointments.” There are things you can do to make it easier to be part of the conversation:
- Come prepared. Keep a diabetes journal with all your information and all your questions to bring to your appointments.
- Bring support. A trusted friend or family member can calm you down and also help you remember everything said during the visit.
“Often, people with diabetes are told to eat better, move more, and take medication,” says Srivastava. “But what if… medicine is too expensive, or you can’t figure out how to make time for cooking, or exercise just isn’t working because your knees hurt so much?”
“When you are part of the conversation, you can share what barriers or challenges you have to change them, discuss what you are able and willing to do, and understand the recommendations that are being made,” says Srivastava. “Finally, being an advocate means having faith in yourself. If something doesn’t feel right or if you feel like you don’t really understand the recommendations or how to incorporate them, get involved and ask.”
And when your treatment plan is working well, continue to communicate with your doctors and pass on the good news. “At the heart of this team is you, the person with diabetes. You know your body, your experiences, your goals and expectations, your questions and your schedule,” Srivastava says. “You know how you’ll be able to better make the changes to keep your blood sugar at healthy levels and keep complications at bay.”