Diabetes is a condition in which a person has high blood sugar, either due to faulty insulin production, or because the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both. Diabetes can be treated or controlled by means of diet, exercise, and medication. See the NC Health Info page on Diabetes for more information.
There are several different kinds of medical providers that can treat or help you manage your diabetes. These providers often work together as a team to help you develop a personalized diabetes care plan.
You can use your health insurance plan’s directory to find a diabetes care provider in your network. Or you can use the Physician Compare directory from Medicare.gov to find a provider that accepts Medicare. Directories for specific types of providers are listed below.
A primary care provider (PCP) may be a family physician, nurse practitioner, internist, or a physician’s assistant. Generally you see a PCP for checkups, common health problems, and when you get sick. The PCP is usually the first health care professional you will see. Since diabetes is complicated, your PCP will put together a team of providers to help you with whatever diabetes-related issues you may have. Your PCP will coordinate your care among these other specialists and team members. Your health insurance plan may require you to first get the doctor’s referral for visits to the other health professionals on the team.
A family physician is a general practitioner with additional specialty training and expertise in dealing with patients of all ages. Family physicians may provide both preventive care (routine checkups), as well as diagnosis and treatment of a chronic illness, like diabetes. A family physician will coordinate your care with other subspecialists when needed. Some family physicians have special training in diabetes. Use the American Board of Family Medicine to find a family physician.
Internal medicine specialists, also known as internists, focus on treating adult and adolescent medical disorders and provide long-term, comprehensive care. Internists are trained to treat the whole body, not just the internal organs, and they see patients for a variety of conditions and complaints, including diabetes. Internists often provide preventive medicine and patient education services related to diabetes. Use the American Board of Medical Specialties Certification Matters service to find a board certified internist near you. You must register first. Choose North Carolina as the state and Internal Medicine as the specialty.
A physician’s assistant (PA) is a licensed and certified professional who provides a range of services under the direction and supervision of a doctor. PAs use effective screening and diagnostic procedures for pre-diabetes and diabetes. They can establish treatment goals for you, teach you about healthy lifestyle, and motivate you to take care of yourself. To find a PA who treats diabetes use the North Carolina Medical Board Licensee Search. Choose Physician Assistant as the License Type and Diabetes as the Area of Practice. Leave the other fields blank.
Diabetes educators are health professionals – nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, doctors, exercise physiologists, podiatrists and social workers, among others – who can help you develop problem-solving and coping skills and adopt healthy behaviors. They will work with you to develop a plan to stay healthy and give you the tools and ongoing support to make that plan a regular part of your life.
Diabetes education is a recognized part of your diabetes care and is covered by Medicare and most health insurance plans. Many are also certified diabetes educators (CDE), which means they have met additional care criteria. Use the American Association of Diabetes Educators directory to find a diabetes educator.
What, when, and how much you eat can make a big difference in how well you can control your blood sugar. Your doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian (RD) to develop a food plan based on your eating preferences, schedule, and nutrition needs. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and have health insurance, it will probably cover visits to a dietitian/nutritionist. Use this directory from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to find a dietitian.
An endocrinologist is a doctor with special training (and usually certification) in diagnosing diseases related to the glands like diabetes. Many people with diabetes never need to see an endocrinologist but if you have just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, or are developing severe complications or having trouble controlling your diabetes, your primary care provider may refer you to an endocrinologist for additional care and treatment.
Diabetes can affect the blood vessels in the eye but when problems are caught early there are effective treatments. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people diagnosed with diabetes see an ophthalmologist or optometrist at least once a year to check for any changes in their eyes. Be sure the eye care doctor you choose has experience treating patients with diabetes.
An ophthalmologist is a medical or osteopathic doctor who specializes in eye care. Ophthalmologists can provide the entire range of eye care from prescribing glasses and contacts, to prescribing a broad range of medications, to performing complex eye surgery. Some diabetic eye problems require surgery. Ophthalmologists can be found using this directory from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Optometrists are not medical doctors but are trained in the treatment and management of diabetic eye problems. They perform most of the comprehensive, dilated eye exams for people with diabetes in the United States. Optometrists educate their patients about preventing and minimizing eye complications caused by diabetes, and routinely work and coordinate with other health care professionals on your diabetes care team. Optometrists can be found using this directory from the American Board of Optometry, or this directory from the North Carolina Board of Optometry.
Diabetes can cause a loss of feeling in your legs and feet. This nerve damage means sores or injuries on your feet might be harder for you to notice. A podiatrist will check your feet regularly for early identification and treatment of foot problems and will determine your risk for developing diabetes-related foot complications. The podiatrist can also provide you with information so you’re able to better manage the effects of diabetes on your feet. Podiatrists can be found using this directory from the American Podiatric Medical Association.
Diabetes can sometimes cause symptoms that feel like depression. High or low blood sugar may make you feel tired or anxious. If you and your doctor rule out physical causes, your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, or professional counselor. In fact, your doctor may already work with mental health specialists on the diabetes treatment team. For more information, see the American Diabetes Association page on Depression.
Clinical trials are research studies that examine whether a medical treatment or device is safe and effective for human beings. Many of the drugs and therapies available today are the result of clinical trials. To learn more, and to decide whether participating in a clinical trial is right for you, visit ClinicalTrials.gov, a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies, sometimes called Complementary and Integrative Medicine, are treatments that are not part of standard medicine, such as acupuncture, chiropractic or dietary supplements. It is a term used for a wide variety of health care practices that may be used along with, or instead of, mainstream medical treatment. [An example of such therapy is using acupuncture or biofeedback to relieve neuropathy.] For more information on the use of Complementary and Alternative Therapies including supplements, related to diabetes care, please visit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The Mayo Clinic also has a page devoted to diabetes and alternative medicine.
There are a lot of good support groups, advocacy organizations, blogs, social media, and news sources online to help you cope with diabetes. The diabetes online community is made up of patients, caregivers, health care providers, and associations who offer support and share their knowledge to anyone touched by diabetes. This handout from the American Association of Diabetes Educators describes and lists many of these online sources.
Many in-person diabetes support group meetings are hosted by hospitals. Call your local hospital or use this directory from the Defeat Diabetes Foundation to find an in-person support group meeting near you.
Diabetic Supplies: Information about financial assistance with diabetes supplies and related health care items and services can be found at the Medicine Assistance Tool (MAT.org).
Free and Discounted Services: There are a number of free and discounted services in North Carolina that you may qualify for, including free urgent care clinics and help with paying for your medications or health insurance. Check out our Free and Discounted Services page to learn more.
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Our librarians are happy to help you with questions such as “How is diabetes diagnosed?” or “What is heart disease?”. We can not answer questions about an individual’s medical case or care. Please contact your doctor for specific medical advice.
Page authored by UNC Health Sciences Library Staff.