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Mobile devices help manage diabetes: UC-led study

Amanda Jones

23 May 2016: An innovative pilot program led by the University of Canberra has found mobile devices such as iPads can help people with type 2 diabetes better manage and improve their overall health while also making informed lifestyle changes.

The program, which was funded by the ACT Government in partnership with CSIRO's Data61, ANU Medical School, Canberra Hospital and Ochre Health Medical Centre Bruce, saw 28 patients use iPads to help manage their condition for nine months.

University of Canberra associate professor of communication and chief investigator, Sora Park, said the aim of the project was to see how mobile technology could be used in healthcare, in particular people living with type 2 diabetes, to achieve positive change.

"It's estimated around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes with type 2 the most common accounting for 85 per cent of all cases, and this number is increasing. Diabetes is complex and requires daily care and management," Dr Park said.

"The project aimed to harness Australians' increasing use of digital devices to help them manage their condition and make better lifestyle choices, day in and day out. The iPad builds on the support they receive from their GPs, by always being by their side when making the daily choices that impact upon their health."

The patients, recruited at the Ochre Health Medical Centre based at the University of Canberra, used iPads with apps installed to improve their knowledge of diabetes, record and track their blood glucose levels, help with food and dietary decisions, encourage exercise and share experiences with other patients. Patients were also offered training on how to use the iPad if required.

Nearly 90 per cent of the participants who attended the training said the iPad helped them manage their diabetes while 75 per cent felt more confident with their food choices.

The study also found age was not a barrier to accessing mobile technology with the majority (82 per cent) of people taking part in the study aged 50 or over.

"Digital devices have a huge potential to engage users in managing their chronic conditions and overall health. This builds on the concept of health care homes, the principles of which are the building blocks of care provision at Ochre Health," co-investigator and GP at Ochre Health, Dr Paresh Dawda said.

"Mobile devices provide a new era of portability and useability and could reduce the need for more acute and costly interventions down the track," he added.

The results of the mHealth: Empowering people with type 2 diabetes using digital tools study were released at a public symposium co-hosted by the University's News & Media Research Centre and Health Research Institute on 13 May.

The event 'Digital potentials for health: Narrowing the divide' explored digital connectivity in the health context, with presentations including digital engagement, self-management and shifting the locus of control, the Eating4Two smartphone app and a sociological perspective on digital health.