"Digital technology really has the power to fundamentally change the delivery of diabetes care."
I could not agree more with this quote said by Dr. Howard Wolpert at this year's ADA Scientific Sessions in New Orleans. Technology is changing the way we think about diabetes care. Mobile apps and services are empowering people to take ownership of their health, identify patterns (and problems), and take action. Tech is democratizing diabetes education and care. It's our job to leverage it!
There is a diabetes paradox: People need to make data-driven decisions, but they often have no idea how to use their data (or worse, don’t have access to it). This is an issue I see a lot with my patients. Diabetes is overwhelming enough--a lot of data and numbers can feel even more confusing.
The problem is not really about the amount
of data, but rather what to do
with it. People need help interpreting their numbers. As both a psychologist and person with diabetes, I am excited about the ways that technology can improve diabetes management, particularly in terms of education, self-efficacy, and support.
As a diabetes psychologist, I spend a lot of time with my patients answering questions about diabetes. Here’s the problem: I see most people once a week and people see their doctor even less frequently. It’s really helpful be able to ask (and hopefully get answers) without having to wait for an appointment. We can't wait any longer!
Technology can play a big role here. It is already used to disseminate diabetes information, education, and advice. Searching the internet is one approach in people's quest for knowledge, but new technologies offer more sophisticated information delivery. For instance, mobile apps may identify knowledge gaps and tailor information, thereby personalizing education. For many of my patients, real-time information and insights
are really important. They want to be able to use their own data to do this but just don’t know how. Technology can help them break down complex data and give them meaningful information in the moment it matters, not in a doctor's office well after the fact.
Diabetes self-efficacy is the confidence in one's capacity to manage diabetes. I work hard to help my patients see that their behavior matters in their diabetes management. I’ve seen lots of people who are on the verge of hopelessness because they feel like there is nothing they can do to manage their blood sugars. Behavior matters in diabetes management, and our challenge is to help people understand and embrace this reality
. From my own experience with diabetes, real-time feedback has been incredibly helpful in showing me that my choices matter (which helps me make better choices, especially with food).
I’ve learned that that diabetes is not a do-it-yourself condition
. People with diabetes need emotional and practical support. Although this is not something that Dr. Wolpert talked about, technology lets people with diabetes connect with each other in a community as well as with professionals who can answer questions and provide encouragement.
I’m always surprised when I meet someone with diabetes who has never met another person with diabetes. The first thing I suggest to people like this is to meet others, either in person or virtually, so they don’t feel so alone in their experience. Technology opens the door to give and receive that support anytime, anywhere.
Change is never easy, but it’s necessary to address diabetes on the scale that we are working on. Thank you Dr. Wolpert for giving a voice to this issue. I appreciate it, not only for my patients, but also for myself. Now is the time to leverage the technology we have, and develop new technology to improve the lives of people with diabetes. Let’s go!