Diabetes education and kidney health: Coaching to prevent kidney disease

The American Kidney Fund has partnered with the TMF Health Quality Institute to incorporate kidney disease education into Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSMES) classes taught by diabetes health educators using AKF’s Kidney Health Coach program. Kidney Today caught up with Dr. Debra Nell Williams, a physician and a diabetes health educator, to ask about her experiences in making kidney health education an integral part of the program.

Kidney Today: What are the overall goals of the diabetes health education program?
Dr. Williams: The diabetes health education program is designed to improve and maintain the quality of life of persons with pre-diabetes and diabetes. We work to prevent complications and incapacities, improve eating habits and maintain adequate nutrition, and increase physical activity. This program helps people develop self-care skills, improves the relationship between patients and health care providers, and encourages people to use available resources to live their best lives.

Kidney Today: What do you see as the benefits of chronic kidney disease education within a diabetes education program?
Dr. Williams: I think that concentrating on this one major complication during a special segment of the classes is better for participants than focusing on all the complications that are covered together. In addition, participants are able to get more in-depth information on kidney disease while they are in the learning mode and in a learning setting. They have been attending classes already and have become accustomed to the facilitator and the routine. They are also eager for information.

Kidney Today: How do you include the Kidney Health Coach educational materials in your program?
Dr. Williams: As part of the DSMES classes I conduct, I tell participants that they are going to get a bonus class, extra information focused on kidney complications and they will have plenty of time to ask questions. I use AKF’s presentation with notes as a guide and use AKF’s handouts to reinforce what I discuss. I refer to the handout after I discuss a topic and make sure they understand all the terms.

Kidney Today: How well do the patients who you work with understand the connection between diabetes and chronic kidney disease?
Dr. Williams: When I begin the class, I use a map of America’s “diabetes belt,” “stroke belt” and information from the CDC’s website of states with the highest incidence of kidney disease. Then I demonstrate how one follows the other. Seeing it is very sobering. Some have no idea there is a connection. In addition, sharing the stats about diabetes and CKD cements it. The post-assessments show increased knowledge compared to the pre-assessments.

Kidney Today: What advice would you offer to other educators who have become Kidney Health Coaches and who are teaching chronic kidney disease education?
Dr. Williams: First, I want to make sure I do not scare anyone. People are very fearful of dialysis. I take the approach that we should listen to our bodies, know our family history, get checkups and make lifestyle changes in order to have a good quality of life. I am here to give them information they can use to stay on top of their health, and catch problems early.

It’s important for coaches to know their information before beginning a class, but you don’t have to feel like you know everything. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing the answer; get a phone number and tell them you will get back to them. Don’t show shock or disapproval when someone shares something unconventional or unhealthy. You may have to talk one-on-one later with them.

And, finally, have fun! Know you are making a difference in people’s lives.

Dr. Debra Nell Williams is a diabetes health educator and physician in Jefferson and Orange Counties, Texas. She teaches diabetes self-management education and support classes including a section on chronic kidney disease on behalf of TMF Health Quality Institute’s Health for Life/Everyone with Diabetes Counts initiative as well as TMF’s Campaign for Kidney Health. Dr. Williams is certified as an AKF Kidney Health Coach.

Posted: | Author: Debra Nell Williams, M.D.

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