Thursday, 29 July 2010

Text Messages Push Diabetics to Record Blood-Sugar Levels

Text Messages Push Diabetics to Record Blood-Sugar Levels

WASHINGTON – What if my blood sugar's too high today? Is it time for my blood pressure pill? With nagging text messages or more customized two-way interactions, researchers are trying to use cellphones to help fight chronic diseases.

"I call it medical minutes," says Dr. Richard Katz of George Washington University Hospital in the nation's capital. He's testing whether inner-city diabetics, an especially hard-to-treat population, might better control their blood sugar, and thus save Medicaid dollars, by tracking their disease using Internet-connected cellphones, provided with reduced monthly rates as long as they regularly comply.

Consider Tyrone Harvey, 43, who learned he had diabetes seven years ago after getting so sick he was hospitalized for a week. He has struggled to lower his blood sugar ever since. In May, through a study Katz began with Howard University Hospital's diabetes clinic, Harvey received a Web-based personal health record that he clicks onto with his cellphone to record daily blood sugar measurements.

If Harvey enters a reading higher or lower than preset danger thresholds, a text automatically pings a warning, telling him what to do. At checkups, doctors will use the personal health record, created by Indiana-based, to track his fluctations and decide what steps to advise.

"Hopefully, you're paying more attention to your numbers, too," says Howard's Dr. Gail Nunlee-Bland, whose clinic uses an electronic health record that can automatically link to NoMoreClipboard's consumer version and update it with things like medication changes.

The trend is called mobile health or, to use tech-speak, mHealth. If you're a savvy smart phone user, you've probably seen lots of apps that claim to help your health or fitness goals, using your phone like a pedometer or an alarm clock to signal when it's time to take your medicine.

Katz and other researchers are scientifically testing whether personalized cellphone-based programs can link patients' care with their doctors' efforts in ways that might provide lasting health improvement.

"Mobile phones provide that opportunity for persons to get the feedback they need when they need it," says Charlene Quinn, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland medical school, who is testing a rival cellphone diabetes system from Welldoc Inc.

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