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Expert diabetes care expanded

Growing up in a small, rural town with diabetes, I not only believed that I was destined to die young – I thought it was my own fault.

I was 9 when I got my diagnosis. The local doctors didn’t know how to treat my condition, so my parents and I traveled every three months from our home in Cloudcroft to see a specialist in Albuquerque. We would get up before the crack of dawn, drive five hours for my doctor’s appointment, and return home the same day.

I tried hard to follow my doctor’s instructions, but nothing I did seemed to work. My blood sugar levels often soared out of control, and I wound up in the hospital again and again.

More than two decades after getting my diagnosis, I’m happy to report that there is a better way to manage diabetes, especially for patients who live in rural and underserved areas. Endo ECHO, as it’s called, makes it possible for people with diabetes to get specialized care management right where they live, in or near their communities.

No more long trips to see a specialist. Instead, you go to a community health center to see a primary care clinician who not only is extremely knowledgeable about diabetes but also works as part of a team of doctors and other specialists who essentially are co-managing your care.

The care is excellent. I know because I am the nurse manager for the Endo ECHO team at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque. We work with clinicians at nine health centers across the state, helping them become experts in diabetes management.

They learn how to use the latest and most effective diabetes technologies. They also learn how to address psychological and other aspects of diabetes. For example, depression is very common among people with diabetes, and it is a big reason why we have difficulty controlling our disease.

I know from experience that living with diabetes is about much more than taking your insulin. It’s dealing with all the other factors – depression, anxiety, guilt, stress – that’s so difficult, especially if you’re a kid.

From a patient’s point of view, Endo ECHO is a huge breakthrough. Not only do you have a regular provider in your community who manages your care, but that care is informed by a range of professionals, including a diabetes specialist, a psychiatrist, a social worker and a pharmacist.

If you had to get referrals and appointments for each of those professionals separately, it probably would take months. Instead, all that knowledge and experience are incorporated into your treatment plan up front.

You also are teamed with a community health worker who serves as your advocate, liaison and general problem-solver, helping you both manage your treatment and overcome the obstacles in your everyday life.

You, the patient, have providers who want to understand you, your life, and the challenges that you face – not just your diabetes. The end goal is for you to live the life you want, healthily – not just ensure that your blood-sugar levels fall within a prescribed range.

Your diabetes care should be built around your life, not the other way around.

As someone who’s struggled with diabetes my whole life, I want to help others like me – whether you’re 7 or 70.

Endo ECHO is diabetes care at its best. If you or someone you love has diabetes, contact the Endo ECHO community health worker nearest you.

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