If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you know how important it is to actively manage your disease through healthy eating, physical activity, taking medication, reducing your risk for complications, and monitoring your condition. And that is exactly why researchers at University of Utah Health are working to increase access to tools to help people better manage their disease.
But First, What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat and is your body's main source of energy. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into your cells to give them energy. With type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin due to an autoimmune response. With type 2 diabetes, your body does not make or use insulin well.
Available Self-Monitoring Tools
Glucose Monitoring Devices
- Glucose meters are small devices that measure and display current glucose levels using a small amount of blood from a fingertip or sometimes the palm of your hand or forearm. Some devices can be linked to a mobile app. There are talking glucose monitors for those who would benefit from this feature.
- Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) checks your blood glucose regularly, alerts you when your glucose reaches a high or a low level, and provides insight into glucose trends. CGMs work through a sensor on your skin that transmits readings to a recording device.
Insulin Delivery Devices
- A smart insulin pen is an affordable, easy-to-use, reusable injector pen with an intuitive smartphone app that can help people with diabetes better manage insulin delivery. This smart system calculates and tracks doses and provides helpful reminders, alerts, and reports.
- Insulin pumps are devices that use a small catheter to continuously infuse insulin in your body, mimicking the human pancreas.
- Connected CGM-insulin pumps and "closed-loop" systems use a combination CGM-insulin pump. Your insulin pump will be able to integrate your glucose data from the CGM sensor and suggest changes to insulin dosing or adjust the appropriate amount of background or basal insulin on its own.
Smartphones support various aspects of care and patient-clinician interactions, high-quality care, and self-management of diabetes. Available applications can help track insulin levels, look up carbohydrates in food, track physical activity, analyze blood glucose patterns, and share a secure data collection system with health care professionals.
Social Media Applications
- Benefits: Diabetes online communities can be found within a variety of social media applications. Research by Michelle L. Litchman, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Nursing and diabetes specialist, indicates diabetes online communities, like Facebook groups or blogs, can help improve health outcomes for patients with diabetes.
- Potential Risks: Accuracy and creditability of medical information obtained from social media platforms are of primary concern. Some people may have difficulty interpreting medical or scientific outcomes. Other drawbacks are threats to an individual's privacy and distracting advertisements.
Disparities in Technological Access
Unfortunately, there are many barriers to using these technologies, including racial and ethnic disparities, cost, and provider knowledge. Researchers are working hard to reduce these barriers and increase the use of these helpful tools.
Litchman and other U of U Health researchers are studying the intersection of diabetes, digital health, and health disparities.