How to Advocate for Your Diabetes Needs with Your Doctor


 

I can recall many times in my life when I’ve failed to bring up key diabetes issues or topics with my doctor that I truly did need help with. It can be challenging to express our needs as a child, and we tend to assume that our parents or doctors will get there without us expressly asking. Typically, that skill set comes later in life.

Open communication means everything in healthcare (and, you know—life)! The quicker we learn how to do it and embrace it, the better off we all are. When we don’t feel comfortable bringing up our diabetes concerns with our doctors, the gradual development of diabetes complications could go unnoticed and undiagnosed. Here are some words of encouragement to help you go into your diabetes checkups feeling more prepared, confident and ready to advocate for yourself!

How can we have more transparent conversations with our doctors?

Much like talking to our significant others as adults, we can’t expect our doctors to read our minds as patients (or anticipate our every need). Wouldn’t it be nice if our partners brought us iced coffee in bed every morning? Or helped us with the dishes more often? Much like we need to articulate our needs (and sometimes our lavish dreams) to our partners, we need to communicate our care needs to our doctors. 

Every patient’s care plan should be tailored based on individual needs and current times. Despite a doctor’s expertise or time in their field, they should make an effort to become aware of evolving patient needs and not default to traditional practices that may be outdated and underserve patients.

By learning how to advocate for ourselves, we can have more transparent and progressive conversations with our doctors, which can help us achieve our health goals more quickly and efficiently. If we can be more transparent for ourselves, imagine how we can help set the tone for our doctors to do the same with their other patients!

When you want to talk about mental health, try this:

Mental health is a crucial aspect of our care and can quickly fly under the radar. Though more mental health conversations are happening in society nowadays, thanks to the power of social media, not everyone is comfortable talking about their feelings. That’s okay and completely understandable! We all have different emotional growth timelines and boundaries. Some mental health concerns related to diabetes may include diabetes burnout, depression, blood sugar anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, etc.

Follow your gut if you want to bring up a mental health topic with your doctor.

Plan what you’d like to address so you don’t lose momentum or convince yourself it’s unimportant while you’re at your checkup. You can write it down in a notebook or put a memo on your phone. If it’s an option and you’d feel more comfortable, you could also share your concerns in an online healthcare messaging portal.

Keep in mind: your doctor doesn’t have to be the person you open up to about your mental health. Opening up about mental health should happen with the right person at the right time. (You’ll know in your gut when and who that is.) If your doctor is the right person, you will feel that at your appointment—but you may still have to go through that doctor to get a referral to a mental health professional if your insurance requires it.

If you aren’t comfortable being open with your doctor and would prefer to see another specialist or go to a family member or friend for support, try identifying that need with your doctor. They can encourage either route. Still, if you’re not ready to talk things through, that’s okay. Opening up to your doctor about your mental health in any capacity can help you create a game plan for when you are ready to move forward. 

You don’t have to divulge your soul in a day.

When you need refills on your prescriptions, bring a “grocery list.”

Some doctors are better than others at asking us whether we need prescription refills. Sometimes, they are so busy, they may assume a nurse does it. But as patients, we know that’s not always the case either. 

If the communication chain is broken somewhere along the way, this simple standard of care can be overlooked. (Or maybe you just feel guilty about asking for yet another prescription.)

Before you go to your diabetes checkup, take inventory of your prescriptions. Check your expiration dates and supply loads. If it looks like you’re running low or you notice the refill date is close to expiring, keep a “grocery list” of all the prescriptions you need to be refilled. 

Simply handing this list to a nurse or doctor when you arrive will help you all tremendously and ensure no one forgets to call the pharmacy!

When affordability is an issue, ask for resources.

Admitting we’re having trouble affording our meds may feel embarrassing. The truth is that many people in the diabetes community have difficulty affording their medication, and this is nothing to be ashamed of! It’s not your fault the costs of diabetes medications and supplies are so high. 

If you are struggling, your doctor should be able to direct you to resources that can help. You don’t even have to say, “I can’t afford this.” Simply saying something like, “Do you know of any coupons or care programs I can look into that will help make my pharmacy bills more manageable?” can help push them in the right direction. 

Doctors should be able to help equip you with the tools and resources you need to make your medications and supplies more affordable (if any exist and apply to your situation). For example, you may qualify for patient assistance programs (PAPs), care credit, co-pay cards or government-sponsored health insurance programs. (If you need help accessing insulin, remember you can go straight to GetInsulin.org to get customized resources based on your circumstances.)

Your healthcare team can also help you connect with resources that help with food insecurity—like Hunger Free America, SNAP, etc. But you have to let them know you’re struggling to get that help.

Financial health (of all kinds) can be an under-addressed topic in the space but is vital for our holistic health. 

If you are having trouble affording your routine services or paying off in-patient hospital stays, your doctor should also be able to direct you to resources to set up payment plans (that typically accrue little or no interest). 

They should also be able to direct you to insurance verifiers within their facilities that can help you figure out (at no cost to you) which diabetes supplies, medications and services are covered under your insurance plan. You may even find literature on these topics in your doctor’s waiting room and not even have to bring it up! However, if you don’t, please remember that many people struggle with this, and there is no shame in asking for financial assistance. 

This guide touches the surface of topics you may struggle to bring up with your doctor. Many people with diabetes have been there!


Sometimes, it depends on how we feel that day of the checkup as to how open we are with our doctors about our needs but we are all capable of pushing ourselves to open up when needed. There are also many valuable resources on the internet to support diabetes self-management between doctor visits if one-on-one convos with the professionals just aren’t cutting it. 

Maybe one day the Amazon Alexa app will have that mind-reading functionality that lets us share our thoughts and needs through telepathy so that we never have to audibly ask for another prescription refill (or iced coffee) again, but until then, we should all take steps to advocate for ourselves during our diabetes checkups. Relationships with our doctors need to be two-way streets for diabetes management to succeed! 

Healthy communication with your doctor can lead to your best healthy life with diabetes.

WRITTEN BY Julia Flaherty, POSTED 03/08/22, UPDATED 04/21/22


Julia Flaherty is a published children’s book author, writer and editor, award-winning digital marketer, content creator, and type 1 diabetes advocate. Find Julia’s first book, “Rosie Becomes a Warrior.” Julia finds therapy in building connections within the diabetes community. Being able to contribute to its progress brings her joy. She loves connecting with the diabetes communities, being creative, and storytelling. You will find Julia hiking, traveling, working on her next book, or diving into a new art project in her free time. Connect with Julia on LinkedIn or Twitter.