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For Diabetics, Texting Program Improves Health

When living with diabetes, diligent self-care is essential, and at times overwhelming. The demands of self-awareness and self-care can be exhausting, or simply easy to forget about at times, but a lapse can be dangerous for diabetics. In an effort to make keeping on top of the daily responsibilities of diabetes easier, researchers have begun to explore how texting might be used to lighten this load and improve the health of diabetics.

Researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine have launched a program called CareSmarts that aims to help those living with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes keep on top of their daily responsibilities to stay healthy. CareSmarts relies on texting to do this, as it is an instant, convenient, and widely popular medium of communication that is gaining even more footing across age groups.

In a study published in 2014, University of Chicago Medicine researchers ran a six-month pilot of CareSmarts, which involved subscribing 74 patients with diabetes to daily automated text messages. Many of the texts were educational, offering information and advice about nutrition, exercise, and monitoring glucose levels. Participants also received daily text message reminders when they had to check their blood pressure or asking them if they need any refills of medications, and were asked about their self-care habits.

Notably, participants in the study could reply to texts, and were prompted to with questions. Their responses were imported to an online system that recorded and tracked information on the participants' habits regarding their health. If participants had problems or were not taking necessary steps to manage their diabetes, a researcher was able to call them to follow up and offer help.

This feature of the study is yet another instance of the power of texting to create an important vein of communication between healthcare providers and their patients in between visits, a time when healthcare providers often find themselves powerless to help their patients beyond their efforts made in their last visit. Using a texting program like the one tested in the study, providers could access the most up-to-date information on their patients' care and condition, and even reach out to them should they need help, as soon as they need it.

The CareSmarts trial garnered promising results: on average, hemoglobin A1c levels declined from 7.9 to 7.2 percent, with levels among participants with the most poorly regulated diabetes on average decreasing from 10.3 to 8.5 percent at the conclusion of the program. In short, the text messaging program improved the health of its participants. These results demonstrate the powerful potential of texting as a platform to help patients manage diabetes, improv their health, and consequently cut healthcare costs.

And the application of text messaging to diabetes care does not end there; text messaging programs that encourage healthy lifestyles among at-risk groups to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes may also be a powerful medical tool. In a two year-long study published in The Lancet in 2013, 537 working men in southeast India with impaired glucose tolerances were randomly assigned to roughly equally-sized groups, one of which received standard medical care, one of which received between 60 and 80 text messages throughout the study encouraging healthier lifestyle decisions, like tips to encourage more physical activity and discourage overeating.

The results of the study are impressive. Only 18% of the group who received text messages developed type 2 diabetes, compared to 27% of the control group. Apparently, the text messages worked to encourage lifestyle modifications to prevent diabetes onset in at-risk men. While both of these studies are only trials, they offer very promising findings for the future of text messaging and healthcare, a constantly evolving and growing intersection.

About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage, Inc. a software company for communication software solutions. http://www.notepage.net

 

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