The Value of Health Education: Improving Engagement for Members With Diabetes

Healthwise Communications Team

Thanks in part to health education, medical interventions, and self-management programs, the number of new cases of diabetes has gone down each year since 2008.1 This is, obviously, great news. But because people with diabetes now live longer, the prevalence (total number of cases) of the disease continues to go up, and the cost of care across a patient's lifetime has increased.2 Helping these individuals manage their diabetes has never been more important.


By providing encouragement, personalizing recommendations, and using technology when appropriate, you can support your members on their journey to good health and long lives. It all starts with a conversation.

Are they ready? Understanding the 5 stages of change

Different kinds of health education can be given at different stages in an individual's journey. For instance, someone whose only symptom is slightly elevated blood sugar levels might need information on low-glycemic-index foods, while someone with advanced diabetes may need help deciding whether to get an insulin pump.

But assessing a person's readiness to change is also critical. Behavior change rarely happens overnight—it comes about as a person progresses through the five stages of change.3

  Awareness Learning Motivation Behavior Sustainability
Behavior change techniques
  • Assess personal risk
  • Understand illness
  • Learn a skill
  • Role model
  • Personal motivators
  • Build support
  • Create an action plan
  • Reverse behavior
  • Tracking and feedback
  • Address barriers
Examples of stage-specific content “Overview: Type 2 Diabetes” “Giving Yourself an Insulin Shot” “Coping With Your Feelings About Your Diet” “Diabetes: Planning Your Next Steps” “Eating Out When You Have Diabetes”
Details Provides an overview of causes, symptoms, and treatments Outlines the process for safely and effectively giving oneself insulin shots Discusses how to deal with negative feelings about diabetes Talks about creating an action plan, setting goals, and monitoring progress Provides strategies to use at parties or when eating at a restaurant

Understanding this process lets you tailor your recommendations and the ways you communicate, which increases your members’ chances of success.


What's in it for them? Set goals and celebrate successes

One of the best ways to help your members move past the precontemplation stage is to explore what's in it for them. They don't inherently care about their A1C levels, and they probably don't understand how diabetes progresses. But when people know the tangible ways controlling their diabetes will make them happy, they become better motivated.

Ask your members what they care about, and encourage them write down their goals. This might be anything from having more energy for their favorite hobbies to living longer. If they're struggling to get started, talk to them about the value of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.

And who doesn't love being rewarded? Encourage your members to treat themselves when they hit big and small goals. The trick is to move away from rewards that are counterproductive, such as sweets or alcohol, to what each person is trying to achieve. Brainstorm things they can do for themselves that don't center on food, like movie tickets, a weekend getaway, or a new pair of shoes.


Are you underestimating your members? Use technology to educate and engage

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding diabetes health education is the idea that this population doesn't want to use technology. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The rate of new cases of diabetes among children and adolescents has gone up in recent years.1 This is a demographic that wants and expects high-tech solutions. And on the other end of the spectrum, most older adults now use cellphones and the internet regularly. They're more comfortable than ever with technology.

82% of people in their 60s have internet at home (compared to 90% of the overall population). In addition, of people who are 65 and older:

  • Half own smartphones, and one-third have tablets.
  • Two-thirds say they feel "somewhat confident" using electronic devices.
  • 3 out of 4 go online daily.5


However, it's important to note that internet and smartphone usage falls off dramatically in people over the age of 80 and low-income populations.5 Talk with your members to gauge how tech-savvy they are or whether they have access to the internet.

Focusing on the future

Perhaps the best thing you can do for people who have diabetes is help them focus on the future. Talk about all the things they can do going forward. Instead of dwelling on the past or their limitations, center the conversation around how things can be better now that they have the opportunity to make changes.

Health education is an important part of creating those opportunities. Access to simple, engaging, relevant educational material helps members:

  • Better understand their condition.
  • Learn to use diabetes devices, like insulin pens and glucose monitors.
  • Choose healthy foods.
  • Form long-term strategies to self-manage their diabetes.
  • Adhere to their medication.6

Above all, ask people questions about why they want to improve their health—and listen. There will be plenty of time to give them educational material and plan lifestyle changes, but none of that will be helpful if you don't understand where someone is coming from, what scares them, or what they care about the most.

For more information, download or print the free infographic, "6 Keys to Keeping Diabetes Patients Engaged." Share it with colleagues, or print it out and hang it on the wall as a quick reference.

1 https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/library/diabetesreportcard2017-508.pdf
2 https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2018/03/20/dci18-0007
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8168470
4 http://adultmeducation.com/FacilitatingBehaviorChange.html
5 https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2017/05/17/tech-adoption-climbs-among-older-adults/
6 https://www.diabeteseducator.org/practice/provider-resources/how-diabetes-education-helps-patients