Successes in diabetes care

November 14, 2022
This World Diabetes Day, the focus is on access to education. Living with diabetes himself, one AOA member is passionate about caring for and educating patients with diabetes.
Ansel Johnson, O.D.

Photography by Nate Smith

Excerpted from page 56 of the November/December 2022 edition of AOA Focus.

Ansel Johnson, O.D., is eager to talk about his vision for caring for patients with diabetes. It is rooted in a holistic approach: the latest technology (OCT); a standard of care informed by his training and the latest research (such as the AOA diabetes guideline); collaboration with a patient’s primary care physician, a dietician and a pharmacist; and patient education.

Patients can even learn from each other, says Dr. Johnson, who practices in Illinois.

His philosophy? It all works together.

What is crucial is being in a patient’s corner with all those tools at his disposal.

A member of the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (ADCES) for more than two decades, Dr. Johnson says: “You’ve got to be patient-centered and see what their barriers are.”

Dr. Johnson is one of only six doctors of optometry among ADCES’ 12,000 members.

You and Paula Newsome, O.D., started a program a few years ago called KNOCTM (Knowledge-Nutrition-Ocular Health-Coaching). Describe this holistic philosophy.

Even professional athletes, who may know what drills they need to do, have their trainers. They have a strength coach. They may have a speed coach. They may have a psychologist to talk to. They have different people to help them be better.

From where does your passion for providing diabetes care derive?

Family. I have family living with diabetes. I have family members who passed away from complications from diabetes. I am a poster child for Type 2 diabetes because I am living with diabetes myself. Like most people, I ignored the warning signs. I’m a busy professional, running my own practice, with a high stress level, until I had a catastrophic health incident and had to be hospitalized because it had gotten out of control.

Does your own diabetes story help you relate to your patients with diabetes?

Professionally, in practice every day, I see people living with diabetes. I am able to relate my own story to them. I talk to them about my own struggles and day-to-day decisions I have to make to live a better-quality life. I am also really big on patient education.

You’ve talked about providing patients with “nuggets” of education. What are those?

We all know, intellectually, how to take care of ourselves if we’re prediabetic or diabetic. But we also have our own human frailties and struggles. I ask patients, “What’s your plan?” I challenge them to be specific. If they mention their diet, I ask them “How are you going to eat differently?” Are they going to start eating from smaller plates, decreasing the amount of meat they eat? I try to give people specifics or tips that are motivational and achievable.

What kind of commitment does it take to provide this level of care?

Not every doctor can be out of their office for a prolonged period. But I am certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in diabetes prevention. That’s a two-day seminar—Diabetes Prevention Program lifestyle coach—which is a much lower bar to manage. Optometry can make a big difference in terms of public health and health care disparities.

Access AOA’s valuable diabetes resources

To raise public awareness about diabetes and support doctors’ of optometry integral role in detecting the disease, the AOA has a collection of valuable resources including:

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