More than 30 million Americans have some form of diabetes, a chronic, lifelong condition with serious long-term risks, including vision and hearing loss, amputations, and organ failure, but with major problems come equally transformative innovations. That’s why it’s no surprise that scientists are developing new technology to make diabetes easier to manage, whether in young children or older adults. Diabetes management tools are reducing negative health outcomes and easing the burden of constant vigilance associated with the condition.
Historically, when a diabetic tests their blood sugar, they need several pieces of equipment: test strips, a glucose meter, syringes, and insulin. New wearables such as the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System, however, use microfilaments to monitor subcutaneous glucose levels – and the patch can be read through clothing with a simple scanning device. It’s quicker and easier than the older way; plus, when paired with insulin dispensing patches like the OmniPod, users can test their blood and administer insulin with nothing more than an external device.
Though diabetics require intensive medical care, type 2 diabetes can often benefit significantly from dietary changes. Unfortunately, most patients don’t understand how to start with these changes, which is where smartphones come in.
Just like there are apps for managing Celiac disease or counting calories, there are apps that can help diabetic patients build a comprehensive meal plan, choose appropriate foods, and calculate net carbs. The app, Glooko, for example, can compile testing numbers, count carbs, and provide meal and medication reminders, while the Diabetes Tracker from MyNetDiary tracks water intake, net carbs, and even grades your food choices so you can construct healthier meals.
Cooking It Up
Pre-planned meal boxes like Plated and Blue Apron are convenient but they rarely account for the nutritional needs of those with chronic conditions like diabetes. More recently, though, PlateJoy launched a diabetes prevention plan with nutritious options that also foster lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and weight loss. Some insurance providers cover the program and all users need is a wireless scale provided by the company and a free app.
One of the greatest benefits of meal planning services for diabetic patients is that they can introduce them to healthy ingredients they might not otherwise have access to or even know about. Amla, for example, an Indian gooseberry packed with antioxidants can help to naturally manage blood sugar, reduce cholesterol and hypertension, minimize inflammation, improve skin and hair health, and more. But how many patients have heard of it? In the US, not very many. Similarly, mango leaves can also reduce blood sugar levels, as do the spices fenugreek and bilberry. But you have to know about these ingredients to take advantage of them.
Diabetics, especially children and teens, require significant support to learn proper care strategies and live fulfilling lives with a challenging condition, but there aren’t always sufficient local resources. That’s why UnitedHealth, in partnership with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, recently launched a digital health pilot program for teens ages 13-17 with type 1 diabetes. Teens receiving support through this program had healthier A1c numbers than teens receiving conventional care. They also had greater treatment compliance and a higher quality of life, despite the time-consuming nature of the digital pilot.
In today’s digital environment there’s no reason to go it alone, no matter what your ailment, and for diabetics, insulin pumps, monitors, apps, and remote support are all game-changers in terms of healthcare outcomes. But with this new technology, patients and doctors need to work together more than ever. Is your team ready?