What Is the Diabetes Health Care Team?

When you have a child with diabetes, you and your family have a lot to learn, but you don't have to go it alone. Your child's diabetes health care team can help.

Treating diabetes requires the expertise of many types of health care providers, so health care teams typically include doctors, certified diabetes educators, dietitians, and mental health professionals.

What Does the Diabetes Health Care Team Do?

The diabetes health care team teaches families all about diabetes. It helps families create and use the child's treatment plan, also called the diabetes management plan.

The team adjusts insulin and other diabetes medicines, develops meal plans, and makes physical activity recommendations to help control blood sugar levels.

All team members should take into account your child's schedule, skills, preferences, lifestyle, and growth and developmental needs. The team will help you cope with the challenges of parenting a child with a chronic illness and will help your child cope with his or her own set of challenges.

Keep in mind that you and your child are the captains of your diabetes health care team — all of the team activities focus on helping you and your child manage diabetes. The roles and responsibilities of the team members often overlap. You should feel comfortable communicating with all team members because you'll be in contact with them often.

What Does Each Team Member Do?

Doctors

A pediatric endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in treating kids who have diseases of the endocrine system, such as diabetes and growth disorders. But pediatricians, family practitioners, and other medical doctors also can treat kids with diabetes and manage their health care needs.

You and your child should feel comfortable with the doctors you choose because your child's diabetes management plan is based on the doctor's prescribed treatment. Ask plenty of questions and make sure you understand the answers.

Doctors will ask detailed questions about how your child is feeling and will do physical examinations. They'll also teach you and your child about diabetes and, with recommendations from all the team members, make a diabetes management plan.

Besides monitoring your child for diabetes complications and other medical conditions that can happen with diabetes, the doctor will make changes to insulin schedules and write prescriptions for medicines and referrals to other specialists as needed.

Note: Your child will still continue to get general health care from a pediatrician or other primary care doctor.

Certified Diabetes Educators (CDEs)

Certified diabetes educators (CDEs) are nurses, dietitians, social workers, doctors, or pharmacists who help people manage their diabetes. CDEs have had special training to teach parents and kids.

CDEs will:

  • explain what diabetes is and how it affects the body
  • teach you and your child how to give insulin injections or use an insulin pump
  • explain how to treat high and low blood sugar levels
  • show you how to adjust medicines for exercise and sick days
  • show you how to test blood sugar levels, work the blood glucose meter, and test the accuracy of blood sugar monitoring equipment used at home
  • review the diabetes management goals with you
  • discuss any challenges you and your child are facing

Dietitians

Registered dietitians are experts in nutrition and meal planning. They know about food and its effects on the body and blood sugar levels. Just as your child grows and develops, so must his or her meal plan, which you can talk about with the dietitian.

The dietitian will track your child's growth and recommend the right amount of calories needed each day. The dietitian also will:

  • make adjustments to meal plans based on sports, holidays, special events, and other activities
  • provide snack and recipe ideas
  • teach you and your child how to make healthy food choices
  • help you and your child learn carbohydrate counting and meal planning techniques
  • teach you to read food labels and develop strategies for determining the carbohydrate content of foods when food labels aren't available

Mental Health Professionals

A mental health professional, usually a social worker or psychologist (but sometimes a psychiatrist or counselor), can be a great resource for families dealing with diabetes.

Mental health professionals can help parents watch for any problems at home, work, or school. They also can see how diabetes care affects the entire family, and help you find ways to improve your child's diabetes management.

Social workers can help you find outside resources (like support groups) for families dealing with diabetes. They can suggest ways for families to get necessary diabetes equipment and supplies and help them deal with insurance and financial issues.

Psychologists and psychiatrists can use behavior modification techniques to help kids if they're having trouble controlling their diabetes, are feeling angry or sad, or aren't taking responsibility for diabetes care as they mature. Psychiatrists also can prescribe medicines for emotional problems related to diabetes, such as depression.

Depending on where you live and the type of diabetes facility that you visit (whether it's a specialty diabetes clinic or pediatrician's office), you may find all members of your team in one place. Or you might visit several different offices for diabetes care. If you don't have access to a dietitian or mental health professional but would like to see one, ask the doctor to refer you to one.

Every person on the team is important to managing your child's diabetes. Making sure they all know the diabetes management plan will make your child's care as coordinated as possible.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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