Diabetes Forecast

Conversation Maps Aid Diabetes Education

Healthy Interactions

When you think of education, you might imagine a lecturer, a set of slides, and a room full of listeners. Until a decade ago, these were the staples of diabetes self-management education, which teaches people with diabetes the skills they need to manage their condition. That changed in 2007 when the American Diabetes Association, in partnership with medical companies Merck and Healthy Interactions, introduced the Conversation Map tools. Over the next decade, the map tools helped make diabetes education less of a lecture and more of a discussion.

Designed for use with a class of three to 10 people with type 2 diabetes, the Conversation Map tools incorporate diabetes knowledge into a large, colorful map depicting situations that people with diabetes might encounter in their daily lives. Jan McWilliams, RN, MSN, CDE, BC-ADM, a diabetes educator who works with Merck to train other educators to use the map tools, compares the experience to playing a board game. As they move through various areas of the map, participants can discuss aspects of diabetes management with their peers, while a diabetes educator prompts conversations, runs activities (such as sorting “fact” and “myth” cards into separate spaces on the map to debunk diabetes myths), and occasionally corrects misconceptions.

Games may be better known for entertainment than education, but the power of the Conversation Map tools lies in their ability to foster discussion among people with diabetes. Unlike a lecture, a map session encourages the participants to do most of the talking. “When you have conversations about a topic, you retain as much as 70 percent of what you learn. When you read about it, you can retain as little as 10 percent,” says McWilliams.

The conversational format of a map session also allows participants to benefit from one another’s experience with diabetes. “When [participants] ask questions, it’s often the other people in the room who answer them, not the facilitator,” McWilliams says.

The map tools also allow people with diabetes to steer the discussion toward the aspects of diabetes management that are most important to their needs and lifestyle. “As the map goes by, they realize that maybe they can work on their stress, or that they may not be in a position to change what they eat, but they may be able to start wearing a pedometer,” says Barbara Eichorst, MS, RD, CDE, a diabetes educator who works with Healthy Interactions to train health care providers to use the map tools. “It really focuses on a patient and allows the person with diabetes to self-regulate their learning process.”

The opportunity to talk with other people with diabetes provides support as well as learning. People with diabetes often feel alone in their struggle, but when they discuss their problems at a map session, “they can unite and support each other,” says Eichorst. And that support encourages people with diabetes to return and learn more. “They come back because they want to see each other,” Eichorst says.

Want to Know More?

Diabetes self-management education can help you learn new techniques to manage your diabetes for your best health—and it’s covered by Medicare and many private insurers. Learn more about the benefits of diabetes education and how you can get it.



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