Mobile health apps hold big potential for diabetes management

October 1, 2012

Mobile health applications can help disadvantaged patients overcome obstacles that prevent them from managing diabetes. Learn why your patients should use them.

Mobile health applications can help socially disadvantaged patients overcome obstacles that prevent them from effectively managing diabetes, a recent study concluded.

For example, the problem of lack of access to healthcare providers can be addressed in part by providing mobile diabetes management tools to disadvantaged patients, who typically have access to smartphones and other mobile devices, according to Washington, DC-based nonprofit the eHealth Initiative.

Specifically, mobile applications that help patients monitor medication adherence and blood glucose levels can improve disease management for diabetic patients, according to a statement from the eHealth Initiative.

“This study shows the potential for mobile applications to improve disease management among all populations and how patients can play a central and active role in effectively managing their health,” says Sophia Chang, MD, of the California HealthCare Foundation, which supported the study.

Managing diabetes is a particular challenge for patients from backgrounds that the study referred to as “disadvantaged,” because such patients often lack education on the disease and also may face financial, language, and cultural barriers to healthcare.

To conduct the study, researchers reviewed 107 published articles that evaluated the use of mobile health tools to manage diabetes. The literature showed that, by using mHealth tools, patients with diabetes were able to make positive changes in systolic blood pressure, improve glucose values, and reduce cholesterol.

Mobile health tools are most commonly accessed via smartphones, but some applications also are available on the Internet or through email, according to the statement.

Margarita Loeza, MD, a primary care physician from Venice, California, told Medical Economics last year that she’s begun prescribing a gaming app called DiabetesIQ to her patients.

The DiabetesIQ app challenges users to test their diabetes knowledge in a quiz-format and allows them to compete with others to test their knowledge about managing the condition.

Loeza said that the app may provide a solution to one of the biggest challenges she faces: patients with diabetes who fail to show up for their health education appointments.

"They will take time off work for a doctor's appointment. But if we say 'Come to the health educator' or 'Come to the diabetes classes,' they say they don't have time," Loeza says. "But they spend a lot of time on their smartphones. I thought this was a good way to teach them about the complexities of the disease."

Some free apps that can help patients manage diabetes include Diabetes Log, Bant, Diabetes Buddy, and Diabetic Meal Planner Lite, according to health IT firm CakeHealth.

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