Diabetic Education Classes Offer Chance to Teach and Learn From Patients

MU Health Care’s Jennifer Jackson, Krystle Wattenbarger and Jeff Robbins hold education classes for newly diagnosed diabetics.
MU Health Care’s Jennifer Jackson, Krystle Wattenbarger and Jeff Robbins hold education classes for newly diagnosed diabetics. Robbins gives the patients personality tests, and the results help health care providers better understand how to connect with them.

When Jeff Robbins was thinking about ways to improve the MU Health Care patient experience, he recalled the two years he spent as the clinic manager of the Cosmopolitan International Diabetes and Endocrinology Center.

Patients who were diagnosed with diabetes received plenty of instructions about managing their disease, but there wasn’t much information flowing the other direction.

What were their fears about the disease? What motivated them? What challenges did they face in keeping their diabetes under control?

“I saw an opportunity within the diabetes center education class to connect with patients dealing with their new diagnosis,” said Robbins, who is now a coordinator in the Office of Patient Experience. “How can we create a ‘face’ to their story, generating more empathy and understanding about the person dealing with diabetes?”

In August 2018, Robbins began attending the education classes held a few times a month for newly diagnosed diabetics. In the classes, dietitian Krystle Wattenbarger, RDN, and nurse Jennifer Jackson, RN, explain how to deal with high and low blood sugars, how medications work, common medication side effects, complications of diabetes, coping skills and resources they can turn to after class. Diet tips and exercise benefits are shared, with lots of interaction throughout the day between the facilitators and patients.

After Wattenbarger and Jackson, who are both certified diabetes educators, finish their sessions, Robbins hands out questionnaires and helps the patients complete them.

They are asked to describe their ideal patient experience in one word, asked how they learn more about diabetes and asked about their occupation and hobbies. The survey gauges their motivation, ability and triggers that might help them change behaviors to manage their disease. Lastly, they take a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test to determine their personality type.

Throughout the 20-minute session, Robbins maintains a genial banter with the patients and keeps the process light and fun for people who have recently received some heavy news. At a November session, one of the patients was pleasantly surprised to learn his personality type is problem-solver.

“I expected sociopath,” he joked to Robbins.

Afterward, Robbins uses the information to create personas for each patient. That gives the patients’ health care providers more tools to understand and motivate their patients. For example, knowing an individual patient’s barriers to exercising or eating right can help the provider suggest solutions.

Robbins also has noticed some broader trends among the diabetic population, such as heavy Facebook usage. He is planning a Facebook group that creates an online community and support network for the patients so they don’t feel alone in their challenges managing diabetes.

“The goal is really to connect and relate to the patients better, get in their shoes,” Robbins said. “What’s it like to be you? To meet the needs of the patient, you have to understand them. This is a way you can understand them better than by looking at a chart or doing a basic check-in at the clinic.”

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