Cell Phone App Helps Diabetics Manage Their Disease

A text messaging system for people with diabetes led to better blood sugar control and savings for an academic medical center, according to a study by Shantanu Nundy, MD, a professorial lecturer in the Department of Health Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS). The study by Nundy and his colleagues appears in the February issue of the journal Health Affairs.

Most diabetics see the doctor for a just few hours every year, yet in order to keep their disease in check they must eat healthy foods, take medication and measure their own blood sugar levels all on a daily basis. All of that self-care requires a focus that can be hard to stick to day in and day out.

Nundy and his colleagues wondered if a mobile health (mHealth) program that sends text messages to patients would help them manage the disease. To find out, the researchers looked at people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes who belonged to an academic medical center’s employee health plan. Nearly 70 of the patients had signed up for CareSmarts and received text messages during the day that reminded them to take their medication, gave them quick tips on how to stay healthy or asked them if they needed to refill a prescription.

Patients sent and received an average of 3.4 text messages per day in this study and most said that the system helped them manage the disease. The cell phone app also encouraged more interaction with the patient’s primary care providers: If the patient texted back and said they were not sticking to the medication schedule they would get a call from a nurse who could help them get back on track.

At the end of the six-month study, Nundy and his colleagues found that patients using the text messaging system had better blood glucose control, an important indicator of good health for people with diabetes.

In addition, the six-month cell phone program saved money on health care costs: The total cost of health care for patients using the cell phone app decreased by $812 per person or an 8.8 percent savings for the employee health plan over the study period. The cell phone system is thought to save money by keeping diabetics healthier over the long run, says Nundy, who is also managing director for program innovations at Evolent Health in Arlington, Virginia.

Nundy did the study while at the University of Chicago Medical Center.