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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

22 Tips for Being Your Doctor’s Favorite Patient If You Have Diabetes

While you probably won’t be having dinner dates with your doctor, he or she can be your best friend when it comes to helping you manage your diabetes. So open your arms and be ready to embrace (figuratively speaking) that relationship, and help your doctor help you. These wise suggestions will help you forge a relationship that works for you.

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Befriend the support staff

It never hurts to say a friendly word to the people who work with your physician. Office administrators, physician’s assistants, and nurses can be extremely helpful when it comes to getting more face time with your doctor, answering questions about insurance coverage, or providing you a quick answer when your doctor isn’t available. It’s also a good idea to be considerate by arriving on time and giving at least 24 hours’ notice if you need to reschedule an appointment.

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Keep up with your doctor visits

Waiting too long between doctor visits and assuming everything will stay the same in the interim is like driving blindfolded and assuming that the road is straight. Most people with diabetes visit the doctor every three to four months, but that can vary depending on your health status, including your glucose levels and how stable they are. Ask your doctor how often she’d like to see you, and keep those appointments. If you go for long periods without seeing your doctor and your glucose is not under control, you could cause yourself some serious trouble. (Related: Here’s how to avoid 12 of the biggest diabetes complications.)

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iStock/Don Bayley

Bring your glucose records

If you have a log book or a glucose meter that keeps track of levels, bring that information to appointments. This helps your doctor to help you pin down the food factors that seem to be influencing your blood sugar and also to point out ways to change them for the better. Unfortunately, not all general practitioners will take the time—or even have the expertise—to do this. If you’re not getting enough help along these lines, you’ll want to see a registered dietitian or a certified diabetes educator. Also be prepared to talk about what kind of exercise you’ve been doing. If you haven’t been doing a lick, seeing that doctor’s appointment on the calendar may spur you to lace up those sneakers.

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Bring an extra set of ears

The average doctor’s appointment lasts less than seven minutes. Sometimes it’s hard to take everything in. If possible, bring someone with you to just listen to what the doctor says. After the appointment, compare notes. Also, if you wear hearing aids, don’t forget to wear them. If you don’t have anyone to bring with you, you may be able to find an advocate from a diabetes support group (look for groups as your local hospital or search to accompany you.

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Don’t dress up for the doc

Instead, wear comfortable clothing and shoes that you can remove easily. It seems like a simple suggestion, but having lots of buttons or laces can make getting undressed for examinations cumbersome. Loose pants with an elastic waist, a comfy T-shirt or sweater, and slip-on shoes are perfect.

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Remove socks and shoes, even if your doctor doesn’t ask you to

That’ll help remind your doc to examine your feet for signs of skin breakdown, hot spots, cracked heels, or ingrown toenails. It’s a good idea to follow these diabetic foot care tips.

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Find out what your blood pressure is

Sometimes your doctors (or their nurses) take your blood pressure and don’t tell you the result, but you should know. Ideally, blood pressure for people with diabetes should be 130/80 or lower. If your pressure is higher, it means your heart is working too hard and can indicate an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and nerve and kidney damage.

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Take a few deep breaths before your blood pressure reading

This will help you get a more accurate reading, especially if you tend to get a little nervous in the doctor’s office. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor. Here’s what else doctors may not tell you about healthy blood pressure.

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Bring a list of all your medications and supplements

Don’t forget to list over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbs, in addition to prescription drugs. This will help your doctor quickly determine if you’re taking two things that interact badly or if you’re taking something you really don’t need. It will also clue her in to side effects that may be related to something you’re taking.

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Ask when to call

Ask your doctor what blood-sugar reading is too high for you. Typically you’ll need to call your doctor anytime your blood sugar is over 250mg/dL. Watch for these high blood sugar symptoms.

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Learn how to get help after office hours

Is there an alternate number you should call? Who are the other doctors who will be on call when your doctor is out of town? Which emergency room should you use? Ask these questions before a crisis strikes.

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Do your research if you need a new doctor

Gather word-of-mouth recommendations. Ask for referrals from friends, people you know who have diabetes, or your doctor. Do a bit of digging about why a friend is suggesting a doctor- you can turn up some interesting information by simply Googling the doc’s name. Ask if she listens well. Is he experienced in working with people with diabetes? Can you get in to see her quickly? And of course, make sure any new doctor is on your insurance plan.

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iStock/Steve Debenport

Look into group medical appointments

During these visits, you share a doctor and/or nurse with a group of other people who also have diabetes. Doing so can do a lot more than save you money on healthcare costs. They also can open up more time for you to ask a doctor or nurse the questions you need to get answered so you can better care for your health. A 2013 review of 93 studies found that shared medical appointments helped patients to significantly drive down blood sugar. A different study determined that these group appointments resulted in improved patient satisfaction over typical one-on-one patient visits.

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Ask leading questions when doctor shopping

Does she have a large number of patients with diabetes? More diabetes patients means more experience treating people with diabetes. Does she refer diabetes patients for diabetes education? What target blood-sugar numbers does she consider acceptable? Can she tell you what her average A1C number, a long-term measure of blood-sugar control, is for her patients with diabetes? Normal is 4 to 6 perfect; the goal for people with diabetes should be under 7 perfect or under 6 percent, according to some sources. Does she use electronic medical records? Studies show that MDs who keep electronic records keep better track of the tests their patients need. Answers to these questions will tell you a lot about her experience with diabetes care.

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Make sure your diabetes plan is a good fit for you

Speak up if for any reason you have concerns about your doctor’s recommendations and expectations—for example, if your feet burn so much that you can’t exercise, if you’re having trouble getting rides to your doctor’s appointments, if you are terrified of needles and don’t think you can inject yourself with insulin, or there’s nowhere to refrigerate your insulin at work. These are all problems your doctor can help you solve or work around.

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Speak your mind

If your doctor has a computer in the exam room and you find that he spends more time looking at it than you, you need to take action. You might think this is bold, but get up and look over his shoulder to see what is so interesting. You’ll make your point.

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Prepare before your appointment

You probably see your doctor only a handful of times each year, so make the most of those visits with a little advance preparation. It could pay off later by eliminating the hassle of having to repeat an appointment because of a missed lab test or because you forgot to ask an important question.

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Make a list of questions

Doctor visits go by so fast that it’s hard to remember everything you wanted to ask or mention unless you write it down. To make sure you keep track of each question, number or bullet each item on your list, leave space to take notes, and check off each item after you’ve talked it over. That way, even if you get sidetracked, you’ll be able to refer back to your notes to know what still needs to be discussed.

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Get lab tests done in plenty of time before your visit

Your doctor may ask you to have tests done prior to your appointment, but if you wait till the last minute, you may not get your results in time and you have to reschedule. Instead, get them done right away—you’ll want your doctor to go over these with you.

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Get detailed instructions for upcoming lab work

Find out if you’ll need to make an appointment at the lab, or if they have walk-in times. And make sure your lab is on your insurance plan—your plan may cover some labs but not others. Will you need to refrain from eating or drinking prior to the test or wear comfortable shoes and clothes if you’re going for an exercise stress test? Do you need to have lab work completed a certain number of days before your appointment? Should you avoid taking certain meds before the test?

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Review your diet

Truth be told, if you’re not careful, you can “out-eat” the effectiveness of most diabetes drugs. Before your next visit, take an honest look at your diet and ask yourself if you’re doing everything you can to eat better foods on a better schedule. At what times of day do you generally eat? Many diabetes medications are more effective when properly times with meals. How often do you eat out? It’s much harder to keep calories under control when you eat at restaurants. What are your portion sizes—small, medium, larger, or immense? Do you limit sugary or high-fat foods? Your doctor will probably ask about your food habits. If not, ask him if he would like to know what you eat and when you eat it.

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Maintain your normal eating and drinking routine

That is, unless your doctor told you to fast. If you’re not sure, call your doctor’s office at least 24 hours before your next appointment and ask. If your eating or drinking habits were out of the ordinary in any way on the day of any appointment or lab test, be sure to tell your doctor, because that could cause altered heart rate, blood pressure, or test results.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest