Younger Diabetes Patients Interested in Mobile Health Applications

Health applications may help younger patients successfully manage type 1 diabetes.

A majority of young patients with diabetes expressed interest in receiving diabetes management tips and strategies through text messaging or health applications, according to a new study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Since many patients with type 1 diabetes are young when diagnosed, disease management in addition to school work and growing up can present a challenge, especially when patients reach an age where they desire independence from their parents.

Achieving disease control early in life is important in delaying diabetes-related complications, including heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and neuropathy. Managing type 1 diabetes includes monitoring blood glucose levels, administering insulin, healthy diet, and exercise.

Both optimal and poor-self management habits formed in early life tend to continue into adulthood, which makes adolescence a critical period, according to the study.

Mobile health (mHealth) is an approach that uses mobile phones as a platform to deliver healthcare services, including disease management. This strategy is beneficial because it provides patients with remote access to education, motivation, and reminders to ensure disease control.

The use of mHealth has been able to engage younger patients with type 1 diabetes, which has been difficult in the past, according to the study.

Included in the study were 115 young adults aged 16 to 24 with type 1 diabetes who responded to closed- and open-ended questions regarding their experience with, and willingness to use, mHealth for disease management.

The study authors gathered information regarding demographics, technology access, mHealth usage, and diabetes management.

Only 33% of patients reported that they currently use, or have used, health applications for diabetes management. The authors noted that usage varied by ethnicity, with Pacific Islanders less likely to use the technology compared with Europeans.

Interestingly, 43% of females reported the use of health apps, compared with only 21% of males, according to the study.

Of those who have used apps to manage diabetes, 26% found that the technology was extremely useful, while another 53% of respondents said the apps were marginally useful.

Respondents who found the apps useful said that the technology was able to track diabetes data, count carbohydrates, calculate insulin, and it had a convenience factor. Graphing blood glucose levels was also observed to be important for the participants, according to the study.

However, some patients reported that data entry required by the apps were tedious and discouraged use. Technical issues, such as a Wi-Fi or data connection, also limited use among some patients.

Additionally, entering data regularly was crucial to the success of the apps, and those who forgot reported unsuccessful use. This finding may be able to encourage disease management applications to send reminder text messages, emails, or direct notification to the patients.

Despite having some negative feelings about the apps, 87% would recommend them to other adolescents with diabetes, according to the study.

Approximately 64% of respondents expressed interest in receiving text messages to manage their condition, with a majority wanting more than 1 message per day. Tips on diabetes management and motivational messages were desired by 77% and 68% of respondents, respectively.

Participants who did not wish to receive text messages felt it would be unnecessary or a burden, while others thought they already managed their diabetes well.

The authors discovered that overall, younger patients with diabetes use health apps to manage their disease, and some would like even more interventions via text messaging. These findings could be used to design and develop future mHealth apps to improve usefulness and satisfaction, according to the study.

“Overall, results indicated interest in mHealth for supporting diabetes self-management and provides further support for mobile phones to deliver self-management support in this population group because of high access,” the study authors wrote. “In addition, the survey highlighted that although young adults were confident in their ability to manage their diabetes, there was strong interest in learning more about aspects of diabetes management.”