Last week at the ADA Scientific Sessions in New Orleans, Dr. Howard Wolpert made the bold assertion that ‘Digital technology really has the power to fundamentally change the delivery of diabetes care.’ He said that technology is going to change the way that we think about and deliver diabetes care, shifting the paradigm away from top down prescriptive approaches, and giving patients the tools they need to change their behavior. Technology has the ability to empower patients to take ownership of diabetes management in a way that has never before been possible. These technologies give people the tools they need to identify patterns (and problems) and take action in their diabetes management. Technology is democratizing diabetes education and care in new and exciting ways. We have to seize this opportunity!
The paradox of diabetes care is that people with diabetes need to make data-driven decisions, but as Dr. Wolpert said, they often have no idea how to use their data (or worse, don’t have access to their data) to make daily diabetes management decisions. This has to change, and technology is essential. Technology bridges the chasm between data and self-care. Technology, especially mobile technology, is an extraordinarily powerful tool in diabetes care. Through my lens as a psychologist, I believe that technology can improve people’s diabetes management and quality of of life in several big ways.
Technology can be used disseminate basic information about diabetes and diabetes management more than ever before. This isn’t news – we’ve seen this with the internet over the past 20 years. People who have questions about diabetes can get answers quickly and easily (assuming they are looking for answers from credible sources). But newer technologies allow us go far beyond basic diabetes education. In order to patients to truly take charge of their diabetes management they have to understand what that means, in language they understand, and know what do do with this information. Technology not only gives people access to basic information about diabetes, but it also gives them access to information about diabetes, in in a personal way – using their own data, providing people with insights about their diabetes management in real time. Good actionable insights can lead to behavior change, and there’s is no better tool for teaching. Technology lets us breakdown complex data and educate patients with this data in the moment when it matters, not in a doctor’s office long past the time the information and insight is useful.
A critical piece of diabetes education is showing people that their diabetes management decisions matter and make people feel like they have come control over their blood sugars, which often feel like a moving target. We know that behavior matters in diabetes management, and our challenge is to find ways to help people to understand and embrace this reality. Real-time feedback is critical in this process. We can use data to provide this feedback and help people gain some sense of control. If people feel a sense of self-efficacy around their diabetes management, I know they’ll be more willing change their behavior, which will increase their confidence. Technology can be a powerful tool in this process.
Diabetes can feel overwhelming and people with diabetes need support. They need support in understanding their data, but it can also be really helpful to there are others people out there who care and who are willing to support them. Although this is not something that Dr. Wolpert talked talked, technology lets people with diabetes connect with each other in a community, as well as with professionals who can answer questions and provide encouragement. Support is critical to diabetes quality of life, and technology opens the door to for support anytime, anywhere.
There are times when paradigms need to shift, and in diabetes education and management, that time is now. Change is never easy, because it brings us out of our comfort zone – but it’s necessary to address diabetes on the scale that we are working on. Thank you Dr. Wolpert for giving a voice to this issue. Now is the time to leverage the technology that we have and develop new technology to improve the lives of people with diabetes. Let’s go!