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Diabetes control is more than just knowing your A1C

By Tara Spann

I’ll never forget my diagnosis with type 2 diabetes. I was 24 years old and my doctor attributed my, then 30-pound weight gain to “hand to mouth syndrome” - a not-so-polite way of saying I ate too much. And, because I had a degree in nutrition, “I should know better.” I was speechless. Humiliated. Ashamed.

That was ten years ago. Since then, there’s been progress in helping people better understand diabetes as a serious, chronic disease. But, as a national Novo Nordisk survey of people with diabetes, physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants shows, a lot of misconceptions, unmet needs, and barriers remain.

Take patient conversations with their providers. The research said patients often have a different perspective on what was discussed versus what their provider remembered. Not surprisingly, costs and insurance coverage are also an issue, with more than half of providers expecting healthcare access to become more challenging within the next three to five years.

What really resonated with me was that only 31% of patients surveyed said their diabetes was in control, and only half said they feel they can manage their diabetes and avoid complications.

So what do my fellow patients want? More support from their healthcare team on even the basics on living healthfully with diabetes, like making smarter food choices and incorporating physical activity into their daily routines. They also, not unexpectedly, want medications to be more affordable, which is something we’re working on.

Doctors, in the meantime, feel they don’t have the information or time to fully address this complex disease and all the ways it can impact someone’s life.

Where everyone agrees is that diabetes care is about much more than medication.

I know this well. After my own diagnosis, helping patients became my passion and career. I am now a Certified Diabetes Educator who’s counseled both patients and providers to improve care. Last year, I became one of Novo Nordisk’s first Obesity Educators, a role dedicated to raising awareness about obesity as a disease that can keep so many patients, like me, from receiving the care they need.

I’ve worked really hard over the last ten years to lose 80 pounds, something I recently shared with my new nurse practitioner. When she heard that, we spent a lot of time discussing my progress. She gave me encouragement to keep going, especially to keep at my A1C target and keep the weight off. After reading the Diabetes 360, I realize how important my NP’s acknowledgement was.  What a difference from when I was diagnosed! The survey said the same: success in managing people with diabetes depends largely on how well a provider understands and manages a patient’s emotional well-being and quality of life.

So what can we do? Emotional support, healthy eating and physical activity choices, and health coverage are the biggest needs. As a patient, an educator and employee of a company that has always been patient-focused, I know we can help with educational resources and tools. I’ve come a long way from that ashamed young woman at the doctor’s office. Today I’m proud to be giving a voice to a new generation of patients living healthfully with diabetes and obesity.


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Very well written and very informative.
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Tara: Thank you for your honesty and willingness to share your personal story. I recently had a similar conversation with an HCP regarding her patient’s health (not weight) and not judging our patients. This provider’s empathy is really what led to her patient’s success. Tara, thanks for reminding us that empathy and emotional support are important parts of what we do!
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Thank you for sharing some of your journey with us! No doctor should ever treat a patient that way and so happy for your successful weight loss!
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