News and insights brought to you by the International Diabetes Federation

Heather Koga with workshop participants
Heather Koga (second from right) with organisers and participants of the Master Class in Paris, France.

The title of the Master Class program, “Working with, and for patients”, was underway. Last March, I was invited by Servier to attend the diabetes program in my capacity as one of the members of the IDF Blue Circle Voices network. The first effort of the morning was directed to assist an upcoming diabetes awareness program which needed the input of people with type 2 diabetes. The second was for the attendees, most of whom lived with diabetes,  to interact with about 50 diabetologists and endocrinologists from across the world. The goal was for all involved to share challenges and experiences about doctor-patient communication. The objective? To improve relationships between healthcare providers and people with diabetes. Some of the insights included doctors admitting feeling burned out from heavy work loads while people with diabetes felt unheard and judged.

Improving practitioner-patient communication has become a priority in modern healthcare systems today mostly because it improves diabetes clinical outcomes. Previous studies suggest that doctors who score higher on empathy and compassion in patient communication, also score higher on treatment outcomes.

Doctors and people with diabetes were asked to express their concerns regarding the barriers to communication that negatively affect the doctor-patient relationship, and ultimately treatment outcomes.

  • People with diabetes mostly centred on the need for doctors to give them undivided attention, to involve them in decisions about their treatment and share information critical for self-management.
  • People with diabetes complained that doctors often take a judgemental approach and do little to help motivate.
  • Doctors complained that people with diabetes often fail to prioritise their health at the expense of work or relationships, lack motivation and often find it difficult to follow instructions, like recommended diet, medication and lifestyle.
  • Physicians reported high levels of distress and burnout in their work which often compromises their ability to give their patients adequate time and attention.

Some of the insights included doctors admitting feeling burned out from heavy work loads while people with diabetes felt unheard and judged.

Possible solutions
  • To improve communication with people with diabetes, the doctors committed to active listening, asking open ended questions, asking for the patient’s perspective, acknowledging the achievements made by people with diabetes and empowering them with information on their condition among other patient-centric methods.
  • People with diabetes agreed to write notes during consultations and give as much information as honestly as possible to doctors, in all interactions. They also pledged a commitment to follow instructions and adhere to the recommended medication and diet. It was suggested that people with diabetes should be able, if they wish, to record consultation conversations with their doctors for future reference.

By incorporating the voice of people with diabetes, and by taking into consideration experiences, thoughts and recommendations, the program was unique and a great success. Convening the doctor-patient program set up an important commitment from the professionals. Participating doctors were keen to incorporate the voices of the people with diabetes they treat into their practices going forward.

As a person living with type 2 diabetes and a member of the Blue Circle Voices Network, participating at this forum was a valuable experience as it afforded me the opportunity to give my perspective of what it is like to live with the condition on a daily basis. The lessons learnt at this conference will be beneficial to me as an individual and also to the communities that I work with in the fight against diabetes. It is my hope that there will be more opportunities for people with diabetes to be heard at such important platforms going forward.

The Diabetes Master Class was organised by Servier International and held in Paris, France.


Heather Koga has lived with type 2 diabetes since 2013 and is from Zimbabwe.

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