November is Diabetes Awareness Month and, as you’ll undoubtedly notice, many of our students are engaged in activities—both on campus and throughout our community—to help raise awareness of this pervasive and growing epidemic. According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes and tens of millions more are at serious risk of developing the disease.
Of course one of the major long-term complications of diabetes is retinopathy which can lead to vision loss. Because of this, optometrists have long played a key role in helping those with diabetes maintain their sight and their quality of life. But in many ways diabetes offers a perfect microcosm of just how interconnected the vast world of health care has become, and how important it is for those who provide health care to be able to work well together.
A diabetic typically relies on an unusually large and diverse team of health care professionals to help manage and control the disease. In addition to their primary care physician, their endocrinologist and their optometrist, diabetics often regularly see podiatrists, nurse practitioners, dietitians, exercise physiologists, social workers, psychologists and others to help treat their disease and mitigate the issues that inevitably accompany it. While each of these professionals has a unique role to play in a diabetic’s treatment plan, they are all ultimately striving toward the same collective goal: helping that patient manage his or her diabetes and maintain the highest quality of life. That team of health care professionals can best achieve this goal by understanding the work that each of them is doing for the patient.
I am heartened to see our students taking such an active role in creating awareness about a broad public health issue. The members of the Student Chapter of the American Public Health Association have been particularly active in this regard (you can read about their efforts organizing last month's World Sight Day activities in this issue.) It shows the sort of leadership and inter-professional awareness that we are actively encouraging at the College. Our new strategic plan implores us to place a greater emphasis on inter-professional and team-based patient care for our students and residents and we are doing this with good reason as the Affordable Care Act has made this particularly important.
As primary care practitioners, it is critical for our students to fully recognize that optometrists are on the front lines of the fight against diabetes and many of the other serious health issues facing us today. Understanding these challenges better today will make them better doctors—and leaders—tomorrow.
David A. Heath, OD, EdM