Modern healthcare is one in which chronic conditions are of paramount importance. More and more of us have diseases such as diabetes that require constant management, and the success with which we achieve this plays a fundamental role in our ability to prevent more serious issues clogging up hospitals.
A recent study from the University of Utah explored how an interactive app can help patients manage their diabetes more effectively. The researchers believe there is a strong emotional element to any behavior change, and when obesity accompanies the disease, it makes it harder to engage in the kind of lifestyle that allows management of it to occur.
The researchers developed the app to try and help users understand the impact physical activity was having on their diabetes, whilst also motivating them to keep it up.
Users first enter their blood sugar values and some basic information about themselves. The app then constructs an average blood sugar curve based upon this information. Users can interact with this graph, predicting the impact exercise would have on their readings. The aim is to better inform them of not only the impact of different types of exercise, but also of exercising at different times of the day. Their predictions are then compared with the actual curves.
“Based on prior work, we thought people would underestimate the impact of physical activity, but we were wrong,” the researchers say. “The patients overestimated the impact of physical activity on their blood sugar, but after using the simulation their motivation still increased.”
The researchers believe that the motivation endured because of the clear feedback affirming the users belief in the positive effect of physical activity on blood sugar levels. By using the app frequently, it gives them a detailed understanding of how their activity levels impact their health, thus making attempts to manage their condition more effective. Indeed, users of the app increased their activity levels by over 30 minutes per week.
“I see this as a tool that educators can use in their office to help patients make the visual connection between the power that they have with physical activity and diabetes management,” the researchers conclude.
The next phase of the project will involve increasing the sample size used so that it reflects the population of the United States as closely as possible. They also hope to tie the app in with a glucose monitor and activity tracker to provide detailed data on both, with the data generated then integrated into the users electronic medical records.