mHealth and Diabetes: A Patient’s Story

Dec 4, 2012, 8:59 AM, Posted by

By David Haddad, program manager of Open mHealth

This week, as a member of the Open mHealth team, I will be at the mHealth Summit to showcase our work enabling integrated mHealth solutions that patients and providers can use to track and improve their health. At a special panel session, we will hear from two patients about how they have used integrated mHealth technology to manage their health.

One of those patients is Alex Freeman, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 4 and is now a pediatric acute care nurse at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital. Before the event, I spoke with Alex about her experiences using mHealth to manage her diabetes. The data integration allows her to pull in weight, blood glucose, and insulin data from a number of different mHealth self-service resources, such as:

  • Entra and the Qualcomm, for tracking blood glucose and weight, via the 2Net cloud integration
  • RunKeeper, for tracking exercise
  • PAM for tracking mood
  • BodyMedia for sleep data and calorie counting
  • ohmage for integrating data

Alex says, “With [Open mHealth], I’m using a lot of different types of technology. Some relate specifically to my diabetes, and others are data input that is a little more broad.”

The integration with RunKeeper allows Alex to track her exercise, which, she points out, is “important because blood sugar is affected by how many calories you’re burning and what your activity level is.” Alex can gain insights about how different types of exercise affect her blood glucose levels differently, which is particularly important for her fitness goals. By carrying her phone with her at all times, she can monitor her activity level, and see real-time feedback on how it helps her to manage her diabetes.  

She also discovered that mood plays a role in her health, and says: “Originally I didn’t think it related to diabetes, but in the end it does, because diabetes and my glucose levels are [both] affected by hormones.”

The Open mHealth integration also allows her to track where and what she eats, and then compare the information more accurately to her blood glucose levels. Alex says, “I’ve learned…that I really shouldn’t be eating pizza unless it’s for something really special, because I have a really hard time after I eat pizza controlling my blood sugar. And that I really need to be doing a temporary basal rate at least an hour before I exercise because I tend to have low blood sugar after exercising. And that certain types of exercise are really affecting my blood sugar differently. Those are some basic things that I’m analyzing, but they’re very valuable.”

She uses the ‘notes’ feature to get a better understanding of what might have caused specific outcomes, and explains, , “I use it for things like—I’m going to bed. My blood sugar is 126... [Giving notes for my self-treatment] allows me to look back at the data and remember, Oh yeah, that’s what I did, and maybe I overdid it because I woke up outside of my target range. And so next time, I can adjust appropriately.”

With the MyComparisons visualization app, which was built by Open mHealth using open architecture, Alex can easily compare the data she captures. As she explains, it allows her to “compare my blood sugar to my notes, or my activity level to my blood sugar, or my mood to my activity.”

Throughout her trial, Alex has made great progress managing her blood sugar levels, which she struggled with in the past. Compared to past experiences tracking her blood sugar levels in a log book, she found that mHealth made the data more readily available for analysis. Since she’s on her phone all day long, she’s more likely to use the functionality and monitor all these aspects of her diabetes. She also found that she feels more accountable and safer knowing that her doctor has access to all of her data. 

Beyond her own experiences, Alex is passionate about the potential for mHealth to help other patients, like the children she works with at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital. According to Alex, “A central place where the practitioner or family member could upload data and make it available any time could allow for preventative interventions, which is lacking in health care, and a more comprehensive look at what is going on with this person and where can we help. There is a need for it.”

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.