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Diabetes education can improve patient health, lower costs

Helping patients better manage their diabetes

4 min read


Diabetes educator speaks with patient


This post is sponsored by NCBDE.

Diabetes managment is challenging for both patients and their health care providers. Certified diabetes educators can help patients gain greater control over the disease and improve their health while also reducing costs for all parties. SmartBrief spoke with Certified Diabetes Educator ® Elizabeth Nix, Ph.D. to learn more.

Elizabeth Nix, Ph.D.

Why did you earn your Certified Diabetes Educator ® (CDE®) certification and how has it helped you?

When I started in nursing back in the late ’80s, very few nurses were certified. I accepted a position at an area regional medical center and found out very quickly I was not an expert in diabetes. After earning my CDE certification, I advanced within my department and was able to assist our hospital as the only ADA-recognized self-management program leader in our area of the state. I worked hard to provide education, not just for the newly diagnosed patients but for those who needed continued support by hosting monthly diabetes support groups. This led me to coordinate a community task force that raised funds to assist the working poor in our area, and that initiative continues today through a local church health center.

In light of November’s American Diabetes Month, can you discuss the benefits of patient education for both disease outcome and quality of life?

American Diabetes Month reminds both professionals and patients (and their families) that diabetes is a chronic illness that has to be taken very seriously. I have always told my patients that my goal is for them to have an amazing quality of life and to leave this world with all their body parts intact and functioning.

What are some key steps CDEs and patients can take to improve health outcomes?

  • Don’t accept excuses for not exercising.
  • Find something a patient can do that also makes them happy.
  • Remind patients that whether it’s walking, running, swimming, cycling, rowing dancing or yoga, the hardest part is showing up!
  • Encourage patients to do chair exercises and meditation at a minimum.
  • Depression is often overlooked by health care providers. It is important for health care teams, including CDEs, to talk to their patients about mental health.

Are CDEs often able to help their organizations lower costs?

Absolutely. If we can change patient attitudes and behaviors, we can help cut costs. For instance, patients who commit to losing weight and start exercising can often come off of blood pressure medications and may even be able to adjust their diabetes medications if they are taking them for type 2 diabetes. These kinds of tangible results can lead to cost saving for everyone involved.

What types of education are needed throughout a patient’s lifecycle with diabetes?

Patient education can be broken into several phases:

  • The initial phase when the patient is first diagnosed. This is a key opportunity to provide sound education and advice on how to stay healthy.
  • The acute illness phase when a patient is already ill (potentially related to their diabetes). Patient education during this time needs to be focused on sick day rules.
  • Finally, there is continual support and education about a variety of topics depending the person’s age and lifestyle. This can include sexual health, support systems and possible complications.

CDEs are also well-positioned to provide a more comprehensive and holistic approach to diabetes education, focusing on individualized goals identified by the patient and caregivers.

How would you respond to clinicians who say “I don’t need this”?

CDE certification provides a level of expertise that gives the health care professional confidence.  Obtaining the CDE also signals to patients and their families, as well as the larger health team, a commitment to an evidence-based approach to care utilizing the highest level of knowledge and expertise.

Elizabeth Nix, Ph.D. has been a registered nurse for 31 years and has worked at St. Bernard Medical Center as a PRN, educator since 2004. Nix is board certified in diabetes education and clinical nurse specialist in adult health and is a tenured member of the faculty at Arkansas State University. She is the coordinator for the ADA recognized Diabetes self-management training program, which is free to faculty, staff, and students on the university campus. Learn more about certification and diabetes education from the NCBDE, including how to find a CDE.