Using Smart Phones to Curb the Discrepancy in Healthcare Literacy and Improve Diabetes Management

Author: Mayuri Patel

Type 2 diabetes is an increasingly common phenomenon. As of 2014, it was estimated that in the U.S. 29.1 million individuals were diabetic and 86 million, more than 1 in 3 adults, were prediabetic. In addition to facing a 50% higher risk of death, those with diabetes experience nearly twice the medical costs as those without diabetes. What is worse is that diabetes is not a stand-alone disease. Rather, lack of diabetes management increases the risk of a cascade of health complications including heart disease, kidney disease, and non-traumatic lower-limb amputations. Diabetic management, however, is not an easy feat for most. In addition to taking medications, regularly exercising and maintaining a healthy diet are critical factors without which disease management cannot be achieved. What further mars this attainment of control is a lack of health literacy. As defined by Bartlam et al, health literacy involves “the personal characteristics and social resources needed for individuals and communities to access, understand, appraise and use information and services to make decisions about health.” Inadequate health care literacy disproportionately affects the U.S. population such that those from lower socioeconomic echelons have a greater propensity for poor health literacy and thus poor self-management, especially of lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes. Efficiently and practically addressing this gap can potentially minimize both the risk of and complications associated with diabetes. Smart phones, along with tablets, computers, etc., can be embraced as the gateway to improving health literacy and self-management. Unlike the healthcare team, a smart phone is standard component of most individuals’ day to day lives. Actively embracing this fact can help extend patient education and disease management beyond a 15 minute visit visit. A multitude of resources for managing diabetes can be found online. However, a streamlined, customized, and patient-centered diabetes smart phone application recognized and recommended by the healthcare team can effectively enable this extension. Such an application could consist of a glucometer add-on in order to track a patient’s HbA1c levels. Customized input would be provided to this patient based on these levels in the form of regular dietary and exercise recommendations and educational videos. This app would could serve as a place the patient can record and track critical lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise and understand how they affect HbA1c levels and diabetes as a whole. Such an app could digitize medicine and emphasize a patient’s ability to actively take control of his or her lifestyle to mange his or her diabetes though the use of education and recommendations to create real-time results. Furthermore, by enriching a patient’s grasp of a disease at home, such an app can transform and fortify disease management as a two-way effort and invigorated discussion between the patient and healthcare provider.