Whether you’ve been recently diagnosed with diabetes or have had it for a long time, you’re likely making an appointment with a “diabetes doctor,” or endocrinologist. An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases related to hormone imbalances such as diabetes and thyroid disease. They can be a wonderful resource in helping optimize your medicines as well as referring you to other specialists you may need to see.
Sometimes people are referred to endocrinologists when they are first diagnosed with diabetes, while others get acquainted with one when their diabetes gets a bit harder to control; for example, when other health conditions such as kidney disease make managing it complicated. There is nothing wrong or scary about seeing an endocrinologist. In fact, doing so can really help to fine tune your treatment plan and tailor it so that you receive quality care with good results. Depending on what your needs are, your endocrinologist may want to see you every three-to-six months or as often as needed.
As with any type of doctor, you’ll want to make sure you do your homework before choosing one. Here are some of the things you should research before making an appointment.
Do They Take My Insurance?
Most endocrinologists take insurance, but not all do. Before making an appointment with a specific provider, call your insurance company or their office of practice and make sure they take your insurance.
If they do, find out how much the specialist co-pay will be. Make sure they co-pay is affordable. Depending on your diabetes control or whether or not your need your medication regimen changed, you may have to see your doctor several times in a month. Therefore, you want to make sure this doctor is one you can commit to and afford.
If they don’t take your coverage plan, ask your insurance to provide you with a list of endocrinologists on your plan that reside close to where you live. Depending on how far you are willing or able to go you should receive several options.
Are Their Patients Satisfied?
If other patients are happy with their endocrinologist then odds are you’ll be too. Look for qualities that make a great doctor. You want to find one that is current (keeps abreast of the latest medicines and technologies), empathetic, trustworthy and treats you like an individual.
While there is a standard of care when treating diabetes, because each individual’s life—healthy history, ethnicity, work schedule, family obligations, etc—can vary greatly, it’s important to find an endocrinologist that is able to take all of that into account and provide a treatment plan that works best for you and your lifestyle. For example, if you are on a tight budget, yet your endocrinologist insists on starting you on an expensive diabetes medication, then they may not be the doctor for you.
The best way to find doctors that are reputable and credible is to ask around. Ask other people you know who have diabetes and have seen an endocrinologist whom they recommend. You may also want to ask doctors you already trust, such as your primary doctor.
In addition, you can do some of your own research. Read some reviews on health grades to get a feel for what you can expect when seeing this specific doctor. However, be cautious—just because one person had a bad appointment doesn’t mean that you will too.
Can You Reach Them? What Is Their Availability?
Endocrinologists, like most doctors, can get very busy. It’s important though that if you have a question or an emergency that you are able to reach them or their team. Some doctors don’t see patients in the same office daily. If that is the case, find out where their primary location is. If you need to reach them on a day that they are not at the office, know where and how you can do so.
You also want to make sure that you can see them in a timely manner. Some doctors book out months in advance—their popularity most likely being a good sign. However, if you are unable to schedule follow-up appointments once you are seen, it is going to be difficult to achieve good outcomes.
Sometimes physicians make an exception in their schedule if someone is in high need or they can send you to a diabetes educator for more education between visits. Find out what happens in between sessions and how long it will take you to get a follow-up appointment.
Do They Work With a Diabetes Educator?
In an ideal world, your doctor would be able to take an hour with each patient, explaining medication changes, how to carbohydrate count, what types of exercise are best for diabetes, and more. Unfortunately, they just don’t have time to do this.
With high patient loads, research, hospital rounds, insurance reimbursement, etc. doctors just don’t have the time to educate the way they’d like to. And while you shouldn’t have a robot of a doctor who only spends two minutes with you to merely write you a prescription, odds are they may not have time to provide in-depth diabetes education. Therefore, it’s a great idea to find out if they work with a certified diabetes educator.
A certified diabetes educator provides diabetes self-management education—carbohydrate counting, blood sugar monitoring, foot care, how to eat a balanced diet for weight loss, and more. They are trained professionals, such as registered dietitians, nurses, pharmacists, or social workers that have comprehensive knowledge and experience in diabetes self-management therapy, pre-diabetes, and diabetes prevention.
Those who work side-by-side with an endocrinologist can be a huge asset to your medical team. They can help teach you how to use a new type of medication that your endocrinologist prescribed or help assist you in making appointments, for example, with an ophthalmologist for your dilated eye exam.
Are They Part of Your Health Care Team?
If you have diabetes, odds are you have a health care team that you work with regularly. Many times endocrinologists work in the same office as your primary care doctor or cardiologist. This can serve as a huge asset because this means that your team is working collaboratively. You want your doctors to communicate—this way they can provide you with the best care possible.
If, on the other hand, your endocrinologist does not reside in the same office as your primary doctor, that is okay too. However, you want to make sure that they still communicate. Request that he or she send the referring doctor a copy of their note, specifying what the treatment plan is and the findings (copies of tests, blood work, etc.). By doing so, you’ll prevent having to repeat blood work or having to call offices to request records. All of these things can save you time and money.
If You Make an Appointment With Someone and You Don’t Hit It Off
You may do all your homework only to find out that you just don’t love the endocrinologist you chose. It can happen. Don’t give up and throw in the towel. Instead, decide what you did and did not like about the office or the doctor. The next time around narrow your search based on what matters to you most.