Diabetes self-management

Self-management is important for any long term condition but is especially important when living with type 2 diabetes. This is because its management relies at least as much on the actions that the person with diabetes takes as it does on treatment from health care providers. Its management is complex. It requires a lot of information to be understood and acted upon:

  • things that can worsen the control of diabetes such as poor diet, physical inactivity, or weight gain
  • things that cause complications like smoking, poor sugar, cholesterol or blood pressure control
  • what medications to take and when (and what medications might be a problem)
  • how to monitor diabetes and complications of diabetes by yourself and by your doctor
  • when and where to see doctors, nurses, dietitians, podiatrists etc.

There are excellent free self-management education programs supported by the PHN, and run by local diabetes centres and Diabetes Australia. There is also free telephone coaching on diet, physical activity and weight management available from the Get Healthy service.

A single service however, cannot cover everything a person needs to know or put in practice. Dealing with all the information required is challenging, especially if you have difficulty reading or writing, do not speak English or just don’t feel confident about medical terms. Errors in communication or interpretation of information can be dangerous, leading to errors in treatment, unnecessary hospitalisation and complications. There are two sides to the problem that need to be addressed. Firstly people with diabetes don’t just need information, they need the skills and confidence to be able to find the right information at the right time (including from the internet). For example, to understand the amount of energy in a food item we can read a food nutrition label if we have the knowledge and skills to do so. Secondly we need the information to be more readily understood and available when we need it. Thus a website or app like 8700 (produced by the NSW Ministry of Health) can explain the amount of energy for each food in simple terms. Information is also available in multiple languages.

Article submitted by Professor Mark Harris, UNSW Scientia Professor and Executive Director Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity and Director of COMPaRE-PHC (Centre for Obesity Management and Prevention Research Excellence in Primary Health Care). Mark is also an EIS Health Ltd Board Director.