What a great honor it is to serve as the American Diabetes Association’s new President, Health Care & Education. I have dedicated my career as a nurse practitioner—most of my life—to caring for people with diabetes, teaching other nurses about best practices in diabetes care and raising awareness of the disease in my community.
There is much work to be done in the fight to Stop Diabetes®, but where do we start? I have many hopes for 2012, but I can boil them down to two main areas of concern that I’d like to share with you here.
The first of these is improving access to health care, especially for the groups of patients who have a higher incidence of diabetes. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans are often at highest risk and once diagnosed often have the most difficulty accessing care. I have had the privilege of working with these cultural groups and I have a deep understanding and appreciation of what it means to tailor traditions and make lifestyle changes to improve one’s health and self-manage diabetes. We need to give them the medical support and education to make that happen.
An effective way of accomplishing this is to better educate primary care providers (PCPs). They are truly on the front lines of the Stop Diabetes movement. After all, no one goes to see an endocrinologist unless they know they have a reason to, but many people see a general practitioner on a regular basis for annual exams and minor ailments.
As the country’s leading medical authority on diabetes, the Association needs to help PCPs better understand diabetes and feel more comfortable diagnosing it. This means targeted professional outreach and educational opportunities that will help them translate the latest medical information into practice.
We also need to increase the number of diabetes educators, because currently we have only about 13,000 to serve almost 26 million patients. Diabetes educators are health care professionals trained to teach people with diabetes how to manage it. They can be found in hospitals, physician offices, home health care and other settings. Some are even certified diabetes educators (CDEs), which means they have met certain eligibility requirements and successfully completed a special exam. I myself am a CDE and I look forward to encouraging others to join me in this vital and rewarding segment of the medical profession.
My second priority for 2012 is to heighten the nation’s sense of urgency for the diabetes epidemic. This is a serious problem that must be treated now, for the “tsunami of diabetes,” as I call it, is coming.
What do I mean by that? Well, when I started practicing in 1978, there were about 6 million people with diabetes in this country. Now there are 25.8 million—so I have seen that figure quadruple over my career.
Every 17 seconds, someone in the United States is diagnosed with this disease. It kills more Americans each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. This escalating health crisis costs our nation more than $200 billion annually. Current estimates project that as many as one in three Americans will have diabetes by 2050 (right now it’s about 8.3% of the population).
Not enough people are aware of these statistics—and we need to change that. That’s why, for 24 years, we have hosted American Diabetes Association Alert Day®, an annual wake-up call for people to assess their risk for type 2 using our Diabetes Risk Test. The 2012 Alert Day is coming up fast, so mark your calendars for March 27. (But you and your loved ones can take the risk test at any time!)
There you have it: My focus as Association president for 2012. Have questions or comments? Let me know by either commenting below or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Geralyn Spollett, MSN, ANP-CS, CDE
President, Health Care & Education, American Diabetes Association