Read time: 6 minutes
- Diabetes education can help you become an expert in your own chronic condition, from the ins and outs of using a blood sugar meter to managing your medication and emotional health.
- Research supports several benefits of diabetes education, including improved A1C outcomes, quality of life, and healthcare savings.
- Finding diabetes education may be as simple as downloading an app on your phone.
There’s no denying it: Life changes when you find out you have diabetes. Regardless of the type of diabetes you live with, you’ll probably have a lot of questions at first: What can I eat? How should I exercise? How do I check my blood sugar properly? Do I need to start taking medication? That’s where diabetes education comes in.
What Is Diabetes Education?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) services can help those living with diabetes learn how to take care of their health—from nutrition and exercise to medication and blood sugar monitoring. Some, but not all, diabetes education programs are covered (at least in part, if not entirely) by most health insurances, including Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance. (One Drop, however, is not covered by insurance at this time.)
In any diabetes education service or program, you’ll typically work with a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES). “A CDCES is a healthcare professional who specializes in diabetes management and prevention,” explains One Drop coach, Alexa Stelzer, CDCES, and registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN). “Their role is to serve as both an educator and an advocate for individuals at risk for and living with diabetes.”
To become a CDCES, continues Stelzer, a healthcare professional must fulfill three primary requirements.
“The first is that you must hold a license or registration in a specific discipline,” she explains. “Examples of disciplines that qualify include registered nurses (RNs), registered dietitians (RDs), physicians, physician assistants, pharmacists, clinical psychologists, and other types of healthcare professionals.”
The second requirement, says Stelzer, is that a CDCES must have worked in their qualifying discipline for at least two years and have provided at least 1,000 hours of diabetes care and education within the last five years in that discipline. Lastly, a CDCES has to complete a minimum of 15 hours of diabetes-specific continuing education.
“This training helps to assure that a CDCES has both the foundational and educational training and clinical experience to support and educate individuals living with diabetes,” explains Stelzer.
But a CDCES isn’t the only healthcare professional you’ll likely work with during a diabetes education program. Depending on the CDCES’s secondary credentials, your team might also include an RN or nurse practitioner, an RD, a physician’s assistant, a pharmacist, an endocrinologist, and even a mental health professional, says Holly Smidt, a registered dietitian (RD) at The Center for Endocrinology at Mercy Medical Center.
Together, these experts can help you to not only better understand and self-manage your condition, but they can also help you set appropriate goals with successful results.
The Day-to-Day of Diabetes Education
Depending on where you go and what your exact diagnosis is, diabetes education may look different from one facility or program to the next. Yes, you’ll almost certainly work with a variety of the healthcare professionals mentioned above, but the day-to-day can vary significantly depending on a few factors, such as availability of individual appointments, group education and support, and, of course, your own health goals, says Mackenzie Brewer, an RD and CDCES at the Mary & Dick Allen Diabetes Center at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, California.
“In my current practice,” explains Brewer, “I prefer more frequent follow-ups with those who are newly diagnosed, ideally meeting at least every two weeks. For those with long-standing diabetes, I leave it up to them, so visits could become monthly or quarterly.”
Regardless of how frequently you’re receiving diabetes education services, your team can provide support with blood sugar management, medication, nutrition, exercise, weight management, risk reduction for related chronic conditions (such as neuropathy or heart disease), problem-solving, and even healthy coping skills, says Brewer. “They’re a vital resource in making sure you’re informed on updates to treatment goals, new diabetes technology, and tools,” she adds. “Some facilities providing diabetes education may also offer support groups or have a social worker on staff to ensure that people living with diabetes have greater access to mental healthcare.”
For a deeper dive, One Drop coach, Lisa Goldoor, RN, CDCES, recommends looking at the curricula for diabetes self-management education and support and diabetes prevention program provided by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the CDC, respectively.
Benefits of Diabetes Education
Enrolling in diabetes education services means receiving well-rounded support for your chronic condition, from the mental and emotional stress of it all to the ins and outs of using a blood sugar meter. But how does that translate to actual, meaningful health outcomes?
Research shows that diabetes education—particularly technology-enabled diabetes self-management interventions (meaning apps like One Drop and other similar telehealth resources)—can contribute to a number of different health benefits, from A1C reductions to improved behavioral outcomes and coping skills. Diabetes education has also been shown to positively influence your overall quality of life when living with the condition, and it can even help lower costs related to inpatient admissions, ER visits, and other healthcare expenses.
Smidt also points to an article published by the public health journal, Population Health Management, in which researchers discussed a randomized controlled study conducted with two groups who either received diabetes support face-to-face or over the phone. The results showed that the populations within the study had “significant improvements” in A1C, body mass index, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and depression screening scores in the year following their diabetes education program. However, the results also showed that there was “no statistically significant difference” between those who received diabetes education face-to-face and those who received support over the phone.
According to Smidt, these findings suggest that those who seek diabetes education and support in any form have improved health outcomes. However, she notes, “there’s a lack of research on health outcomes for those who don’t seek diabetes education and support,” so it’s hard to say whether those who engage in diabetes education services are actually seeing better health outcomes than those who don’t participate in these types of programs. (While you’re at it, check out some of the clinical studies that support One Drop’s diabetes education services.)
Where to Find Diabetes Education
Once you’re diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor can help you with the immediate next steps, including finding diabetes education services.
“I would start with your primary care doctor and/or endocrinologist (if you have one) to see what resources they offer and what outside programs they recommend,” suggests Goldoor.
You can certainly find resources online, too, but Goldoor notes that internet searches can be “overwhelming” and “may not be evidence-based (meaning backed by research and facts),” so it may be best to start with doctors you already trust with your care.
That said, though, “the ADA’s website can be a great resource for information, research articles, tips, and tools around living with diabetes,” adds Goldoor. Brewer also recommends the Association of Diabetes Care and Education (ADCES), which has a database of all recognized and accredited diabetes education programs in the U.S. “You can use this to find programs in your area and access their contact information to determine if their program would be a good fit for you.”
For diabetes education services you can benefit from on the go, try One Drop Premium, which will give you access to our qualified health coaches, customized content library, health data tracking, predictions and trends, and more—all in the palm of your hand.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations and program design at One Drop.