Study: Messaging diabetic teens bolsters engagement, disease knowledge

Text messages can help keep teen diabetics engaged in healthcare issues and treatment, according to a new study published in the American Diabetes Association's Diabetes Spectrum.

The research, conducted by Children's National Health System and a diabetes treatment team, piloted an interactive text message program, called the Self-Management Research Technology Project (SMART), involving 23 adolescents ages 13 to 17 who are managing Type 1 diabetes.

The program required participants to respond to texts relating to basic daily disease treatment, including blood glucose checks, as well as educational messaging on nutrition and fitness. The stud was initiated given the limited research on teenage medical interventions, specifically diabetes management, lead author and psychologist Linda Herbert, Ph.D., tells FierceMobileHealthcare in an email. 

The SMART research notes female teens, and teens with a lower glucose level, were more engaged in the texting initiative than other participants. More than half of the participants completed all six weeks of the project and teens responded to most texts within one to two hours. The study also found that teens responded to informational texts regarding nutrition and physical activity more than blood checks.

"Overall, we were very pleased that the SMART Project text message program was feasible and enjoyed by adolescents," Herbert says. "With respect to future text message interventions, we would like to be able to tailor the program to individual preferences even more and individualize the program so that participants could receive diabetes-related text messages that are highly relevant for them."

For example, says Herbert, if an adolescent identifies nutrition as a challenging aspect of diabetes management, clinicians would like to send more nutrition-related text messages than other topic areas.

"Additionally, we would like to increase adolescents level of engagement with the diabetes team and other caregivers in future iterations by including alert systems in the event that an adolescent texts a blood glucose level or other diabetes health marker than warrants discussion with the medical team (e.g., a very high or very low blood glucose level)," she adds.

The results are part of an increasing research wave illustrating how mHealth tools can play an important role in diabetes treatment and driving patient involvement in healthcare issues. Mobile apps are helping diabetics aggregate blood sugar and nutritional data from multiple platforms and devices and logging data into central portals accessible anywhere, according to Steve Robinson, general manager of the Cloud Platform Services Division for IBM, in a column at InformationWeek.

Texting has also proven to help diabetes self-care as well as enhance social support for patients. And a recent six-month study tapping smartphone app intervention to improve behavioral management of Type 2 diabetes in ethnically-diverse populations reported a drop in sugar levels with minimal changes in medication.

For more information:
- read the abstract
- get the full study

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