Diabetes Forecast

How Much Diabetes Education Do I Need?

What good does diabetes education do, and is once enough?

Maggie Powers, PhD, RD, CDE; 2016 President, Health Care & Education, American Diabetes Association; responds

We know that diabetes self-management education (DSME) is just as effective as the type 2 pill metformin in lowering high blood glucose levels—and it has no side effects! That’s powerful.

What To Know

The American Diabetes Association says that everyone with diabetes should have DSME. After looking at studies of DSME and people with type 2 diabetes, the Association says you and your primary care provider should consider DSME: 

1. When you hear, “You have diabetes.” DSME right when you’re diagnosed is beneficial. This is a key time to gain knowledge, skills, and confidence in taking care of your health. Diabetes education programs cover topics you’ll have questions about, including healthy eating, fitting in physical activity, monitoring blood glucose, and understanding what your numbers mean.

DSME also addresses problem-solving skills that help set you up for success: how to fit your favorite foods into your eating plan, for instance, or the best ways to spend your grocery dollars. Through DSME, you can learn how to cope and develop solutions that fit your life.

2. Every year. A common misperception is that education is “one and done”—you won’t need it again. But diabetes changes, and so do you. DSME can help you find out about new treatments and tools. Ongoing DSME helps you maintain the changes you have made so you don’t slip into old habits.

At least once a year, you and your provider will want to consider whether you need a refresher “dose” of DSME. Maybe you are adding insulin shots and need to know how to adjust doses and maintain your weight. Perhaps a foot injury means you’re sitting too much and your blood glucose is going up. Or perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed—as many people with diabetes feel at times—and want to get back on track. Yes, DSME can help.

3. Amid complicating factors. Changes in your health or relationships may call for updates to your routine. You may be balancing other health needs that complicate or distract you from your diabetes care. And complicating factors aren’t just physical. Mental health issues and family situations, such as a divorce or unemployment, can affect your health. DSME can help you find your way and support you through such challenges.

4. During transitions in care. Changes in your health care team and support systems are other times when diabetes education is useful. Transitions include moving from your home to a new location or gaining new insurance coverage that requires a treatment change. DSME at these stages can help protect you and your quality of life.

Find Out More

On Medicare, you get an initial 10 hours of DSME and three hours of medical nutrition therapy (MNT); each year after, you can have two hours of DSME and two hours of MNT (and your doctor may be able to sign off on more).


You’ll need a yearly referral from your provider for DSME. Don’t be shy about asking for a referral at the times above— and whenever you have questions about how to live well with diabetes.



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