SurroundHealth had a chance to catch up with Joanne as she soaked up the news. We learned about her path from an outpatient RD to a broader role helping local health departments set up effective diabetes education programs, and her ideas for how technology can help reach even more patients.
What inspired you to be a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator? To be honest, my career path was set in motion at the end of my freshman year in college when I had gained the famous “freshman 15.”I had the drive to learn all I could about losing weight in a healthy way. From that experience, I realized I wanted to be a registered dietitian. I was lucky that my first job as an RD was teaching diabetes self-management skills at an outpatient center. I absolutely loved interacting with the patients. Each patient was different, and I developed my skills to help patients discover the one change they wanted to make to eat healthier or develop healthier lifestyles. As patients returned for follow-up visits, I could see the results of their efforts – and so could they. I was hooked at that point and went on to become a certified diabetes educator (CDE).
Your career has really evolved from being an outpatient RD, CDE to having an even broader reach and impact. Yes, now I help local health departments in North Carolina gain American Diabetes Association recognition for their diabetes education programs. My goal is to help ensure the medically underserved in North Carolina who need diabetes care the most get access to quality self-management education. So far, 38 of our 85 county health departments have been recognized. Through this work, I have shared teaching tips and techniques with the educators (CDEs, RNs or RDs) at our health departments to help empower their patients. I have also helped the programs market themselves to the community and organize their billing for reimbursement and financial sustainability. It is very inspiring to see the different ways our efforts are working. The number of new and returning patients to the programs is growing, and 65% of patients who complete our program have an A1C of 7% or less.
As you look to the future, what do you see as a great opportunity and challenge for diabetes education and CDEs? I think diabetes educators have an exciting opportunity to use technology to deliver their education to more patients, especially those patients who live in rural America and may not have easy access to quality diabetes education. In my part-time job as an online diabetes coach for Fit4D, I have experienced firsthand the meaningful patient interactions and education that can occur through Webinars, live video chats, email and online forums. Even for those diabetes educators who see patients in person, technology can help support patients and keep them engaged between visits. We still have a ways to go to ensure CDEs of all disciplines (not just RDs) get reimbursed for virtual diabetes education. That’s the challenge but, even so, now is the time to start embracing technology and the virtual relationship it can build with patients.
Over the next year, you will be on a Diabetes Educator of the Year road trip. As you meet with CDEs across the nation, what are the key messages you hope to help spread? I want to help increase the awareness of impaired hearing and hearing loss among people with diabetes and its association with depression. This is a diabetes-related health problem that does not get the attention it needs. Yet it can have a profound effect on patients, their ability to manage their diabetes, and their quality of life. If diabetes educators recognize that a person may have impaired hearing, they can not only adjust their approach to education, but they can also help refer them for appropriate treatment and support. I certainly will also weave in messages about embracing technology and making sure we are listening to our patients agenda before we try to tackle our agenda. To do the latter, I have always first asked, “What do you want to learn? What do you want to be able to do? What problem do you want to solve?,” we can help engage people in taking care of their diabetes – and their health if we answer their questions first!
Congratulations, Joanne, on your much-deserved honor as AADE Diabetes Educator of the Year for 2013!