Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists

JOIN ADCES

News & Publications

Hot Off the Press: The Use of Language in Diabetes Care and Education

Oct 24, 2017

How we speak and the language we use can define our interaction with patients and peers. The goal of this recently released paper is to help us clarify the language we use to be “respectful, inclusive and person-centered.”

Our language can create a barrier to diabetes management or can enhance engagement in care. For example, suggesting that diabetes is the fault of poor lifestyle choices by the person who has diabetes may create a defensive response. Utilizing education and a positive approach about where we go from here may elicit a favorable collaboration and result in improved participation in the individual’s self-care.

The recommendations from a team of experts who have written this paper include the following.

Use language that is:

  • Neutral, nonjudgmental and based on facts, actions or physiology/biology
  • Free from stigma
  • Strength based, respectful, inclusive and imparts hope
  • Fosters collaboration between patients and providers
  • Person-centered

One of my patients in particular is very sensitive about persons referring to her as a diabetic. Her preference is “I am a person with diabetes.” Non-compliance is another term that often raises the ire of persons with diabetes. Stating, “He struggles to engage in his care on a daily basis” may be more sensitive and can more clearly be defined. You can also add, “He is presently in the pre-contemplative stage of exercise; considering a purchase of a recumbent exercise bike.”


Our language can create a barrier to diabetes management or can enhance engagement in care. 


Our written word, as well as our speech, needs to be well thought out. In an era of patient’s access to their own charts, it is vital that the tone continue to be positive; finding the words to express what a patient is doing that is enhancing their health, and also what the immediate and long term goals for their care have been collaboratively decided upon. Instead of stating the patient is non-compliant in regards to blood glucose checks, stating the patient is now checking blood glucose once per day with a goal of two to four times per day would be a positive twist.

How many times have you heard a patient state “I am a bad diabetic!”? We can acknowledge their feelings, but suggest “You are a person with diabetes. It is a frustrating and challenging disease. What do you think we can work on that might enhance the management of your disease.”

The paper is an excellent read for all persons working in diabetes care. It may be that you already are sensitive to the words and phrases you use, but there are always tidbits to learn. It’s available online now for your reading pleasure, and will soon be published in The Diabetes Educator.


Carla Cox

About the Author:

Carla Cox is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She has been a certified diabetes educator for over 25 years, and served as an assistant adjunct professor for 14 years, teaching in areas of sports nutrition and exercise physiology. Currently she works in Missoula, Montana as a diabetes educator in both in- and outpatient settings.

View Bio & Previous Posts

Leave a comment

In This Section

News & Publications