Education Paramount to Overcoming Challenges of Diabetes


“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so the students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” —Parker Palmer, Courage to Teach

According to Christine Tobin, RN, MBA, CDE, President, Health Care & Education of the American Diabetes Association, this quote defines the role that diabetes educators play in the life of their patients and highlights the importance of helping patients to manage and overcome the challenges posed by their disease.

Tobin, speaking during the President, Health Care & Education Address at the American Diabetes Association 70th Scientific Sessions, said education consists of both teaching and learning and is based on mutually desired goals. She said the process is a systematic, sequential, logical, and scientific-based planned course of action and is a major aspect of everything a healthcare provider does. Because education is the key to improving health outcomes, the goal of every provider should be to increase their own knowledge and skills in diabetes care. It should also always be a constant goal for diabetes providers to teach their patients; the education should never stop.

Diabetes education has evolved from skill teaching to educating to self-management care; from imparting specific skills and increasing patients’ knowledge to educating them to make necessary behavior changes to giving them the tools to enable them to self-manage their disease. But, according to Tobin, the one constant in all of these changes is that the focus has remained on the patient with diabetes and their family, as well as on the educators and other caregivers helping patients with diabetes. It is the relationship between patient and provider, Tobin said, that is paramount to maintaining consistency over time. Managing diabetes and educating patients is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. The changes in the process foster growth and learning; teaching cannot be reduced to a technique. It comes down to the integrity of the person doing the teaching. Tobin said diabetes caregivers need to help their patients grow and, like the quote above, create their own world where they can successfully manage their disease.

According to Tobin, the challenges of diabetes patients today are many. Compliance, motivation, and health behaviors are all daunting tasks that diabetes providers must help their patients overcome. Literacy and numeracy are problems that cause many patients to struggle maintaining their disease even when they are really trying their best. If these challenges remain it will be difficult for providers and patients to achieve their goals.

“We need to make sure what we say is being done at home,” said Tobin.

In order for this to happen, literacy and numeracy must be improved and diabetes caregivers need to be able to deliver culturally competent care, as well as learn how to incorporate technology in education so that it doesn’t create a gap among those not technically-savvy. With demographics changing dramatically in our country, it is becoming more and more important to deliver culturally competent, relevant care.

But even though reimbursement is an issue for diabetes educators, Tobin said, “we need to be more vigilant to continue reporting cost-effective outcomes and how they occurred.”

After emphasizing education’s importance in overcoming the challenges of diabetes, Tobin concluded her speech emphatically, “we need to keep fighting diabetes.”

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