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Why You Probably Don’t Need a Diabetes Specialist

You may have a big problem when you want to make an appointment with a diabetes specialist. You probably won’t even get an appointment, and if you do, be prepared for a long wait. But you may not need to see one of these specialists.

Doctors who specialize in treating diabetes are called endocrinologists, a mouthful of a word that people with diabetes usually shorten to “endos.” In addition to diabetes, these doctors also treat other endocrine conditions, including osteoporosis and thyroid diseases.

Some endos sub-specialize in diabetes and are called diabetologists. But it’s hard enough to find an endo, and searching for a diabetologist will be even more difficult.

When I moved to Boulder, Colorado, we had as I remember five or six endos practicing here, and only one of them was accepting new patients. Only four of them are in practice here now. I never went to any of them.

One thousand patients per year

Even four endos for this city of about 100,000 people is a much better ratio than you will find in most of the rest of the country. About 4,800 endos for adults and 900 for children had an office practice in 2011. About 21 million Americans knew in 2012 that they had diabetes (for these purposes, the 8 million or so in the U.S. who didn’t know they had diabetes aren’t relevant). An endo can’t treat more than 1,000 of us a year.

When I worked out the implications of these numbers, I found that the results are grim for the people who want endos to treat their diabetes. Only about one-quarter of us will be able to get an appointment.

Practice patience

If you do succeed in finding a local endo who will take you on as a patient in his or her practice, you’ll need to practice patience. A 2011 survey found that “the average wait time for an initial non-urgent consultation visit with an adult endocrinologist was 37 days.”

Some people with diabetes need to face these challenges and do as much as it takes to get an appointment. All children with diabetes need a pediatric endo.

Who else needs an endo?

Some other people who have diabetes should try to see an endo. My friend, William Quick, M.D., who is both an endo himself and someone with diabetes, offered his wise recommendations in his article on my personal website back in 2005, but his advice remains relevant today.

But not everyone who has diabetes needs to see an endo. Fortunately, a primary care physician can help the rest of us manage diabetes.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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