Diabetes Health: Doctors Using Technology to Help People With Diabetes

An online survey from Consumer Reports showed that the top complaint among 660 surveyed doctors was the failure of patients to follow advice or treatment recommendations.

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes can be effectively managed in most patients through diet, exercise and (in some cases) medication. People with diabetes often struggle to follow the orders prescribed by their doctors.

People with diabetes express that they want to do the necessary thing to improve their health, but they find it difficult to make lifestyle changes – like exercising regularly and eating more balanced meals.

Many doctors are extending the scope of their services to help patients adopt routines that keep diabetes under control. Extending the scope of their services and getting creative with outreach to deliver care that better integrates into their patients’ daily lives.

Education, Motivation and Reminders

Patients with diabetes should expect physicians to employ a three-pronged outreach strategy. The first part of the strategy is education. There is a lot of information patients need to know and understand about their diabetes diagnosis and the disease. For example, a person with diabetes needs to understand how different foods and portion sizes affect blood sugar, carbohydrate counting and what constitutes a balanced meal, and how exercise and medication can regulate blood sugar levels.

Realistically, a physician can’t deliver all that information in any meaningful way during a short office visit. Instead, physicians are now aiming to provide a steady stream of information, research, and tips in digestible bite-size servings.

Doctors are using message systems that periodically send informational material via email, text or voice messaging to do a lot of this educational outreach. Of course, doctors can only send the messages. Patients need to be willing to learn, absorb and act on the information that is being sent to them.

The second type of outreach, physicians are attempting to engage people with diabetes  in motivational messaging. According to the TeleVox Healthy World report titled, “Discussing Diabetes,” shows patients understand the health implications of diabetes and what can be done to reduce its impact—yet they often still struggle to follow treatment plans and change their lifestyles.

Case in point, TeleVox’s report revealed 78 percent of people with diabetes who were surveyed, attempted to lose weight and were either unsuccessful or only somewhat successful. Also, more than half said they could do a better job incorporating healthier foods into their diet and managing portion control.

A second TeleVox study found that 42 percent of patients say they would follow doctors’ orders if they got some encouragement from those doctors between office visits. In response to those findings, physicians are reaching out via phone calls, texts, and emails to encourage patients to take actions that will allow them to see benefits from feeling healthier, having more energy, and even living longer. Patients with diabetes need to embrace motivational messages.

In addition to educating and motivating people with diabetes, doctors are also sending patients reminders to actively participate in their healthcare by doing things such as picking up prescriptions, scheduling appointments for routine tests, or showing up to scheduled appointments.

Numerous studies have found that reminders drive people with diabetes to take actions like scheduling and keeping appointments. Healthcare providers are employing this outreach because they know routine care is crucial to diabetes management.

Through education, motivation, and good old reminders, physicians are working to engage people with diabetes and get them more involved in their healthcare. Below is a closer look at how doctors are executing these three strategies and what these things mean for their diabetes patients.

Routine Care

For patients with diabetes, keeping their disease under control takes constant effort. Doctors know this, and many have started using text messages to encourage patients to engage in daily preventive care. These routine reminders are easy for doctors to schedule for automatic delivery, and physicians are happy to set them up if a patient asks.

Patients can help doctors tailor communications by letting them know what types of messages are most useful. For example, one patient may prefer to receive reminder messages to test blood glucose levels or take prescribed medications, while another patient might prefer reminders to participate in exercise, like a 30-minute walk after dinner. By working together, doctors and patients can create a routine care management strategy.

Text messages are also useful for letting patients know when they are due for routine screenings or exams. A lot of people with diabetes admit they don’t know what preventive services they are eligible for. Consequently, millions of patients don’t schedule these vital screenings and tests – even when there is no out-of-pocket cost. It is recommended that patients with diabetes see their physician at least twice per year for blood pressure checks, foot checks, weight checks and other screenings. Doctors can reach out to patients via text messages and prompt them to call or go online when it is time to schedule an appointment. And patients can take advantage of these reminders.

Clinical Encounters

When people with diabetes miss routine checkups and other office visits, doctors can’t monitor how effectively diabetes is being managed. A majority of health systems have appointment reminder systems in place, and many physicians send out automatic reminders a day or two in advance of appointments. Patients with diabetes that don’t receive reminders for scheduled appointments should inquire about them.

Follow-Up Communication

Many circumstances warrant follow-up communication from doctors. Maybe an individual has started a new medication and needs to be monitored, or their A1C test indicated they are at an elevated level of risk. Physicians may send a follow-up message in a month or two to check in with the patient and see if care plan changes are necessary. When this happens, patients with diabetes need to be responsive. Keeping an open dialogue between patients and physicians is one of the best ways to catch small issues before they turn into larger ones.

Also, sometimes after leaving a doctor’s office, patients realize they have questions or don’t understand the instructions that were given. Another proactive step doctors sometimes take to minimize error and patient confusion is to follow up with patients after visits and recap the details of prescribed treatments. An email, for example, explaining how to store insulin properly to maintain effectiveness can be helpful to a patient that is starting insulin pump therapy, and it is something they can refer back to as many times as needed. People with diabetes should treat these as important communications, and not as junk mail.

Patients – healthy or not – want to feel supported and encouraged by their doctors. Because patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions are at such a high risk for complications and hospitalizations, every bit of communication, text, or email that pushes people with diabetes toward a healthier behavior is valuable.

About the Author: 

Allison Hart is a regularly-published advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients.  She also leads TeleVox’s Healthy World initiative, a research program that leverages ethnographic data to uncover, understand and interpret both patient and provider points of view on encouraging healthy behaviors for better results. Healthy World promotes the idea that touching the hearts and minds of patients by engaging with them between healthcare appointments will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans and that activating these positive behaviors leads to healthier lives.  Hart currently serves as Vice President of Marketing for TeleVox (www.televox.com), a part of West Corporation (www.west.com), where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.