Nonpharmacologic Therapies for T2D: 5 Things to Know

Kellie M. Rodriguez, MSN, MBA, CDCES


May 16, 2023

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Diabetes Statistic Report, there are more than 37 million adults aged 18 years or older with diabetes in the United States, representing 14.7% of the adult population. Approximately 90%-95% of people diagnosed with diabetes have type 2 diabetes (T2D). An increasing aging population with T2D and a disparate incidence and burden of disease in African American and Hispanic populations, raises important care considerations in effective disease assessment and management, especially in primary care, where the majority of diabetes management occurs.

This extends to the need for quality patient education in an effort to give persons with diabetes a better understanding of what it's like to live with the disease.

Here are five things to know about nonpharmacologic therapies for effective T2D management.

1. Understand and treat the person before the disease.

Diabetes is a complex and unrelenting disease of self-management, requiring an individualized care approach to achieve optimal health outcomes and quality of life for persons living with this condition. Over 90% of care is provided by the person with diabetes, therefore understanding the lived world of the person with diabetes and its connected impact on self-care is critical to establishing effective treatment recommendations, especially for people from racial and ethnic minority groups and lower socioeconomic status where diabetes disparities are highest. Disease prevalence, cost of care, and disease burden are driven by social determinants of health (SDOH) factors that need to be assessed, and strategies addressing causative factors need to be implemented. SDOH factors, including the built environment, safety, financial status, education, food access, healthcare access, and social support, directly affect the ability of a person with diabetes to effectively implement treatment recommendations, including access to new medications. The adoption of a shared decision-making approach is key to person-centered care. Shared decision-making promotes a positive communication feedback loop, therapeutic patient-care team relationship, and collaborative plan of care between the person with diabetes and the care team. It also supports the establishment of mutual respect between the person with diabetes and the care team members. This cultivates the strong, open, and authentic partnership needed for effective chronic disease management.

2. Quality diabetes education is the foundation for effective self-care.

Diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) is a fundamental component of diabetes care and ensures patients have the knowledge, skills, motivation, and resources necessary for effectively managing this condition. Despite treatment advances and the evidence base for DSMES, less than 5% of Medicare beneficiaries and 6.8% of privately insured beneficiaries have utilized its services, and this is a likely contributor to the lack of improvement for achieving national diabetes clinical targets. The Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES7) Self-Care Behaviors provides an evidence-based framework for an optimal DSMES curriculum, incorporating the self-care behaviors of healthy coping (eg, having a positive attitude toward diabetes self-management), nutritious eating, being active, taking medication, monitoring, reducing risk, and problem-solving.

There are four core times to implement and adapt referral for DSMES, including (1) at diagnosis, (2) annually or when not meeting targets, (3) when complications arise, and (4) with transitions in life and care. DSMES referrals should be made for programs accredited by the ADCES or American Diabetes Association (ADA) and led by expert Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (CDCES). The multidisciplinary composition and clinical skill level of CDCES make them a highly valued member of the diabetes care team. CDCES have demonstrated not only diabetes education expertise but are involved in broader healthcare roles to include population health management, technology integration, mitigation of therapeutic inertia, quality improvement activity, and delivering cost-effective care.

3. Establish a strong foundation in lifestyle medicine.

Lifestyle medicine encompasses healthy eating, physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky behaviors, and positive social connections. It has also been strongly connected as a primary modality to prevent and treat chronic conditions like T2D. Lifestyle modifications have been noted in reducing the incidence of developing diabetes, reversing disease, improving clinical markers such as A1c and lipids, weight reduction, reducing use of medications, and improving quality of life. The multidisciplinary care team and CDCES can support the empowerment of individuals with T2D to develop the life skills and knowledge needed to establish positive self-care behaviors and successfully achieve health goals. Lifestyle medicine is not a replacement for pharmacologic interventions but rather serves as an adjunct when medication management is required.

4. Harness technology in diabetes treatment and care delivery.

Diabetes technology is advancing swiftly and includes glucose monitors, medication delivery devices, data-sharing platforms, and disease self-management applications. Combined with education and support, diabetes technology has been shown to have a positive clinical and personal impact on disease outcomes and quality of life. Regardless of its benefits, at times technology can seem overwhelming for the person with diabetes and the care team. Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (DCES) can support the care team and people living with diabetes to effectively identify, implement, and evaluate patient-centered diabetes technologies, as well as implement processes to drive clinical efficiencies and sustainability. Patient-generated health data reports can provide the care team with effective and proficient evaluation of diabetes care and needed treatment changes.

The expansion of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, including real-time and asynchronous approaches, coupled with in-person care team visits, has resulted in improved access to diabetes care and education. Moreover, there continues to be an expanding health system focus on improving access to care beyond traditional brick and mortar solutions. Telehealth poses one possible access solution for people living with diabetes for whom factors such as transportation, remote geographies, and physical limitations affect their ability to attend in-person care visits.

5. Assess and address diabetes-related distress.

The persistent nature of diabetes self-care expectations and the impact on lifestyle behaviors, medication adherence, and glycemic control demands the need for assessment and treatment of diabetes-related distress (DRD). DRD can be expressed as shame, guilt, anger, fear, and frustration in combination with the everyday context of life priorities and stressors. An assessment of diabetes distress, utilizing a simple scale, should be included as part of an annual therapeutic diabetes care plan. The ADA Standards of Care in Diabetes recommends assessing patients' psychological and social situations as an ongoing part of medical management, including an annual screening for depression and other psychological problems. The prevalence of depression is nearly twice as high in people with T2D than in the general population and can significantly influence patients' ability to self-manage their diabetes and achieve healthy outcomes. Assessment and treatment of psychosocial components of care can result in significant improvements in A1c and other positive outcomes, including quality of life.

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