If you want to lead the healthiest possible life with diabetes, it's time to step up and become an advocate. And if you know someone with diabetes, advocacy can help improve care for him or her as well. In fact, as a diabetes advocate, you'll help promote better medical care for all.

Speak Up
First off, practice being assertive (even if it does not come naturally!) when you are dissatisfied with the medical care you're getting. You may need to find a new doctor, according to Josh Denton, a social worker who operates Denton Consulting Group, which specializes in improving the performance of individuals and organizations.

Being assertive can pay off, particularly if you're enmeshed in struggles with your insurance company. "Don't be afraid to say when you don't understand something," Denton advises. "Have the person restate it. Then rephrase what they tell you. You want to summarize and clarify what they are telling you." He also suggests asking the question in a different way.

If you're not getting any satisfaction from an insurance company despite your efforts, don't assume that you can't get the company to pay for the medications or supplies your doctor says you need. Find out if medical professionals in your doctor's office can help out.

Get Involved
To be a true advocate, you need to be well-informed about diabetes. So find a diabetes education group, and make the most of your time there. "This reinforces what you know, and puts you in touch with others who are going through the same things you are," says Cathy Carver, CDE, vice president for planning and advocacy at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. To find a group, ask your primary care physician or call your local hospital.

Additionally, if the hospital where you receive treatment has a patient or family advisory council, consider joining, Carver says. Taking part in such an organization can help you learn to engage in policy-making as well as give you the chance to volunteer to help others. Both the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the American Diabetes Association have advocacy programs, Carver says. "You can train to become a diabetes advocate and I highly recommend this."

Why become an advocate? "It is important for people who feel they can be a voice for others to speak out," Carver says. Advocacy "empowers you, and you feel like you are doing something to help you take care of yourself and to change things that will improve the lives of everyone with diabetes." And right now is a crucial time for individuals with diabetes to get involved: "With health care reform and so many things changing, we don't want diabetes to get lost with all the chronic diseases," she says. "We want to make sure that the interests and concerns of those with diabetes are heard."

Becoming an advocate for yourself or for others takes some commitment on your part, but when you're championing the cause, "You don't feel as alone with your diabetes, and you feel like you are making a contribution," Carver says.