By American Diabetes Association

Your diabetes care provider is your go-to person. A diabetes care provider might be your primary care provider whom you’ve known for years and years. It could be a family practitioner, internist, or nurse practitioner, and that provider may have been the person who first diagnosed you with type 2 diabetes.

You may also choose to see an endocrinologist, a physician trained to treat people with hormone imbalances including diabetes. You may find this training and expertise helpful in managing your diabetes.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to say goodbye to your primary care provider if you see an endocrinologist. Instead, you may see an endocrinologist in addition to your primary care provider, who will help you manage any other health concerns.

A diabetes care provider will give you a yearly physical exam and an A1C test every 3–6 months. You find out more specifics about those checkups in the next chapter.

You can find nurse practitioners in primary and specialty care. A nurse practitioner may be at the center of your diabetes care team. Nurse practitioners can make diagnoses, prescribe medications, order lab tests, and develop a diabetes management plan. They have advanced clinical training beyond a registered nurse (RN) so look out for the credentials NP. Physician assistants (PAs) can be primary care providers. They can diagnose and treat patients and prescribe medicines. Their roles vary depending on the healthcare setting, their experience, and their specialty. They can have specialized training in treating people with diabetes.

Choosing the right provider for you

If you decide to find a clinician who specializes in diabetes care instead of using your primary care provider, put some time and effort into choosing someone who is a good fit for you. After all, you’ll likely be seeing this person a couple of times a year for the rest of your life.

Do your homework by looking into their education, medical certification, experience, and insurance acceptance. Many providers and offices have websites where you can find out these details beforehand. For example, the office website might have a short bio and photograph of providers.

Here are some questions to ask about the physician’s education and experience:

  • Where did the provider go to medical school?
  • Is the provider board certified in endocrinology or internal medicine?
  • Does the provider have professional memberships in associations such as the American Diabetes Association or the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists?
  • Does the provider see a lot of people with diabetes? Type 1 or type 2?

The logistics of care, philosophy, and demeanor of a potential provider are other things to mull over. For example, is it easy to schedule a same-day appointment with the provider in case of an emergency? How can you get in touch when you have questions about managing your blood glucose?

You may need to schedule an interview with the provider to get answers to these questions, or you may be able to ask these questions during your first visit. When you first call the office, ask whether the office has a new patient packet or whether you’ll have the opportunity to ask these types of questions. A physician may charge an interview fee for these types of visits.

Don’t be afraid to make a list of questions ahead of time and bring them with you. Write down the answers so you remember them later. Here’s a list of questions to get you started:

  • How often should I expect to see you? What exams or tests are done in those visits?
  • Who covers for you on your days off?
  • How does your office handle emergencies, and whom can I expect to talk to?
  • Can I schedule a same-day appointment for urgent matters?
  • Do you work with a certified diabetes educator, dietitian, or other specialists to coordinate my diabetes care?
  • How do you view the patient and provider relationship?
  • Can I call or email with questions? How do you prefer to communicate?
  • How would you describe your communication style?

After your first visit, take time to reflect on the experience. If you felt comfortable talking to the provider, that’s a good sign. Try to find a provider with whom you feel at ease talking about your feelings and concerns. That provider should also be willing to work with you toward your individual goals. Part of that willingness is an ability to listen.

Your endocrinologist or primary care provider may have other staff that you interact with regularly such as nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants (PAs). These people are also part of your healthcare team. And they may have more availability than your regular physician. Ask the office whether you’ll contact these providers regularly, using a nurse’s on-call hot line for example.

Recommendations from friends and family are great ways to find a trusted diabetes care provider. If you know someone with diabetes, ask him whether he likes his provider and why. Other physicians can also be good sources of information. If you love your optometrist, ask her whether she would recommend an endocrinologist in the area.

Considering insurance coverage

As you’re selecting a diabetes care provider, keep a few things in mind such as health insurance coverage and convenience.

Make sure your provider is covered under your health insurance plan by talking to someone at the phone number listed on your health insurance card. You can also call your health insurance company or go online for a listing of covered endocrinologists or other specialists in your area.

Consider the location of the provider’s office and how convenient it will be to get to appointments two or more times a year. For example, if the nearest endocrinologist is more than an hour a way, you may opt to see a primary care provider who specializes in diabetes instead.

After you’ve chosen a diabetes care provider, ask him or her the following questions:

  • Do you accept my health insurance? (Even if you confirmed with your health insurance company that it works with your doctor, it doesn’t hurt to confirm that with the doctor’s office.)
  • Are you a provider in my PPO or HMO plan?
  • If I need a referral to see a specialist, do you have colleagues who participate under my health insurance plan?