Doctor discusses diabetes during pandemic

It was the Friday date night ritual that Susan Vrieling looked forward to the most,…

Doctor discusses diabetes during pandemic

It was the Friday date night ritual that Susan Vrieling looked forward to the most, the one day she didn’t have to cook. Vrieling and her husband John, from Carleton Place, have both been diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes, and choosing a diabetes-friendly entree was one of the obstacles they had to face dining out, as well as giving up dessert. 

As the pandemic hit the country in March, they had to give up their cherished ritual.

“For a lot of people early on, it was anxiety provoking to go to grocery stores or going outside for exercise (as they heard) that diabetes was a risk factor for complications from COVID-19,” explained Dr. Jill Trinacty, endocrinologist and diabetes expert from Ottawa. “They had family members run errands for them,” she said. 

One in three Canadians today have diabetes or prediabetes, according to the Diabetes Canada website. Trinacty has “heard a whole spectrum of responses from those suffering from Type-2 diabetes, from challenges to a positive response.”

One positive effect of the pandemic for some people suffering from diabetes is the reported improvement of life and food quality as “patients who have been working and commuting to jobs, now have more time to make meals at home and not eating out as much. They have the time to take a walk in the evenings,” said Trinacty.

Vrieling urges people suffering from diabetes to see a specialist sooner. She said “for a long time, I didn’t see an endocrinologist. I wish my family doctor had referred me years earlier. I think things would have been different for my husband and I, our blood sugar would have been under control earlier.”

A national survey of Canadians living with Type-2 diabetes has shown that 89 per cent of respondents found accessing their health care team was their biggest challenge.

“Prior to March 14, physicians were only paid if they see patients in person,” Trinacty explained. When the pandemic hit, Trinacty said that her group “immediately went to virtual appointments and phone calls. For other clinics that do a wider range of illnesses and wider range of care it wasn’t easy to make those transitions.”

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Switching to phone appointments, although an easy transition for Trinacty, was challenging for Vrieling. “I didn’t really like (phone appointments) at all … I feel rushed. I also would like to pick up on (doctor’s) body language.”   

Virtual appointments were also hard to set up for doctors, according to Trinacty, as some patients didn’t have access to the internet. “I do all my visits by phone for that reason. There’s very few platforms (that doctors can use) that are approved by government through the health care act that protect personal information,” she said.

The survey funded by Novo Nordisk Canada Inc. also found that 65 per cent of respondents haven’t discussed treatment options with their health care providers, especially since Health Canada has approved new medications during the pandemic.

“More recently there’s developmental therapy to allow patients to lose weight, newer therapies that also help protect the heart and kidneys,” said Trinacty.

Vrieling has lost 50 pounds since starting the weekly injection of diabetes medication Ozempic in December 2019, and her blood sugar had been perfect and under control. 

Another positive thing about published reports about the inherent risks of COVID-19 for those diagnosed with diabetes is that it has made people “more interested and focused now on getting their diabetes under control and how to minimize the risk. A lot of patients are more engaged in trying to make changes to improve their diabetes,” Trinacty said.

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Yona Harvey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Smiths Falls Record News