This post is the third and final installment of my recent guest post series looking at ways that new Technology is aiding Diabetes Care.
I don't need to tell you how ubiquitous texting has become. (Somehow I could live without internet access on my iPhone this summer, yet I spent hours calling AT&T to make sure I could at least send and receive text messages from Europe!) Today, a progressive endocrinologist who's active on Twitter joins us to shed some light on the new trend that calls itself "mHealth."
A Guest Post by Dr. Jennifer Shine Dyer, MD
A rare sight: a teen without a cell phone, right?! The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that the average teen sends 50 texts per day. Doctors are becoming savvy to this fact and are beginning to capture the potential of cell phones to make a difference in managing diabetes and other chronic diseases. The trend is called mobile health or, to use tech-speak, mHealth. If you're a savvy smartphone user, you've probably already seen lots of apps that claim to help your health or fitness goals — using your phone like a pedometer or an alarm clock to signal when it's time to take your medicine.
Almost all cell phones can receive and send simple texts. Consequently, a group of researchers in the UK developed the "Sweet Talk" system, which delivered tailored automated motivational messages to young people with type 1 diabetes using text messaging. In a randomized controlled trial, this was shown to have positive effects on diabetes control, self-efficacy, and adherence, and user questionnaires indicated high patient acceptability. Although the program was primarily designed to provide "push" support to patients, it was seen as a trusted medium for communicating with health care providers and established a sense of community. Several studies of disease-specific websites and chat rooms indicate that it is both the information and sense of companionship/community components that are most valued by patients.
In a preliminary study of three of my own patients, I saw A1C levels drop from average 11% to 9% in the first 3 months. My diabetes research team (medical programmer, biotechnology expert, psychologist, statistician) and I have now designed an iPhone app for my own personal phone that delivers an automated yet personalized texting program to provide both support and reminders for teens about their meal boluses which we will be studying in 50 patients pending a recent grant application.
However, the solutions to helping those with diabetes are more complex than just simple texting so more exploration of the cell phone frontier is necessary. Luckily, games like Healthseeker on Facebook are coming up on the horizon. However, just communicating by simple email with the doctor seems to be associated with better diabetes control, blood pressure, and cholesterol in a recent study by Kaiser.
Thanks to the innovative ideas sponsored by sites just like DiabetesMine and by diabetes advocates such as yourselves, the future looks bright for incorporating cell phones into diabetes care in a way that really makes diabetes just a little bit easier. So, keep up the strong work! Who knows what we'll be talking about next...perhaps a DiabetesMine iPhone app?!
Perhaps, Jen! Gracias.