Every 23 seconds an American is diagnosed with diabetes.
That’s the cry of the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) new social media campaign to raise awareness and funds to combat the disease.
The ADA is likely hoping for a breakthrough treatment for diabetes to come along sometime soon, but right now, most treatments rely on sufferers developing and maintaining good dietary and exercise routines–in combination with insulin medications. And in these cases, the role of the medical professional becomes one of monitoring and helping manage what can be a major change in lifestyle.
So it makes sense that in order to quickly and easily stay in touch with their patients, doctors are turning to video conferencing.
But are they getting the most out of the available technology?
Online Treatments for Diabetes
Two new studies into the use of video conferencing to help patients manage diabetes have been recently released, and both offer some good news for sufferers.
Research published in Diabetes Care found there was no difference in the level of care experienced by patients who undertook family therapy for diabetes management via Skype and those who attended the same sessions in person.
The study of 90 teenagers with Type-1 diabetes found remote patients were just as likely to be sticking to their new fitness regimes and had the same levels of control over their glycemic levels as those that shared a consulting room with their doctor.
So there’s no downside to using VC to treat diabetes.
What about an upside?
Well, that’s where the second study comes in.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago have just been given $4 million of Federal money to use video conferencing and text messaging to improve the support available for people who are socially isolated or physically unable to attend appointments with doctors and pharmacists.
The UIC researchers are confident telecommuting to such visits will help the 220 study participants stay on track in their treatment.
However, one aspect of their methodology does raise the question of whether VC is being employed to its fullest.
Right Now, Telehealth Still Means a Commute
Doctors participating in the UIC trial will make routine house calls to patients and while there will use video calling to link patients to their local pharmacy in order to smooth the delivery of insulin medication.
But why is anyone physically traveling anywhere when a telehealth telecommute is available?
While the patients in this study are freed from the cost and hassle of visiting both the doctor and the pharmacy–presuming the medication can be delivered once the pharmacy gets the go ahead from the doc–the doctor is now wasting time and energy on a house call. And their time is far better spent in the clinic where they can see a number of patients in succession without having to move any further than the trip to the computer to check on the patient records.
And if the doctor needs to attend in person to measure glucose levels there’s a solution there as well. The U.S. Army has for several years been equipping diabetic soldiers with devices that can measure glucose levels and send the results remotely through mobile phone networks to an electronic database.
In fact, the nature of the UIC proposal is symptomatic of the way healthcare apps and programs are stuck in a rut, using video conferencing purely as communication and not as a tool for better treatment.
Better Online Treatment with Video Conferencing
If the key to a managing diabetes is a healthy diet and exercise regime, then why not use VC not only to monitor a patient’s activities but actually to encourage them to make healthier choices?
There are a number of fitness apps currently available that put people in direct two-way contact with trainers and gym instructors, some that’ll even let you join a peloton of exercise bike enthusiasts live from New York or Chicago.
Why can’t a similar VC-powered program be implemented to help diabetes sufferers specifically?
Likewise, there are all manner of smartphone diet apps going around that could form the basis of a direct conversation between diabetic and healthy eating specialist.
And then there are apps that make use of the technical properties of smartphones themselves, like the ability to host games and merge media, such as those used to treat arachnophobia.
How about a system that incentivizes healthy living by collating and recording a patient’s attendance at recommended remote diet and exercise channels, and stores this information alongside traditional blood pressure and heart rate metrics?
So maybe the next piece of research into diabetes management needs to make use of the way video conferencing can get you moving and get you eating right, rather than just acting as a portal to let your doctor check in on you.