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
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.