Poor understanding of diabetes management targets is associated with worse disease outcomes. Patients may use different information than providers to assess their diabetes control. In this study, we identify the information patients use to gauge their current level of diabetes control and explore patient-perceived barriers to understanding the hemoglobin A1c value (HbA1c). Adults who self-reported a diagnosis of diabetes were recruited from outpatient, academically-affiliated, Internal Medicine clinics. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants and collected data were analyzed using thematic analysis. The mean age of the 25 participants was 56.8 years. HbA1c was one of several types of information participants used to assess diabetes control. Other information included perceived self-efficacy and adherence to self-care, the type and amount of medications taken, the presence or absence of symptoms attributed to diabetes, and feedback from self-monitoring of blood glucose. Most participants reported familiarity with the HbA1c (22 of 25), though understanding of the value’s meaning varied significantly. Inadequate diabetes education and challenges with patient-provider communication were cited as common barriers to understanding the HbA1c. In addition to the HbA1c, several categories of information influenced participants’ assessments of their diabetes control. Increased provider awareness of the factors that influence patients’ perceptions of diabetes control can inform effective, patient-centered approaches for communicating vital diabetes-related information, facilitating behavior change towards improved patient outcomes.