Who knew that the humble cellular telephone would evolve into the powerful tool of today’s smartphone?

A recent announcement of a new smartphone app by Eli Lilly for glucagon use instructions reminded me specifically of the growing number of smartphone apps in diabetes care. A recent survey showed that the average smartphone user has 41 apps loaded on his or her smartphone. Apps powered by Internet connectivity affords users many options ranging from productivity to entertainment. I use my smartphone multiple times per day for various tasks ranging from checking email, reading medical news briefs, or entertaining my daughter with Angry Birds.

Health related applications loaded on smartphones along with other devices such as tablet computers represent a growing new trend of mobile health (Mhealth). Mhealth is a term used for the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile devices. Mhealth currently provides a number of useful services including access to health information, real-time patient monitoring, and communication with the health care team. Many health care organizations, including Cook Children’s, now have apps providing families with useful health information. A growing number of diabetes care apps are appearing to meet the needs of children and families dealing with this chronic condition.

Caring for type 1 diabetes involves a great deal of daily work: recording essential information such as blood sugars, insulin doses, carbohydrates eaten at meals, exercise, and illness. The diabetes education received by children and their families in the Cook Children’s pediatric diabetes program stresses two key skills of organization and interpretation of the daily flood of information. An organized system for capture of information is vitally important to give children and families maximal control over type 1 diabetes. The “old school method” for organization is a paper logbook carried everywhere with all information recorded. This system remains the best overall method helping both families and the pediatric diabetes care team to make important medical treatment decisions.

I know that many children and families struggle with maintaining a high level of organization. Diabetes smartphone applications present the potential to meet the needs of a mobile, tech-savvy population seeking a step beyond paper logbooks. I think this population is already comfortable with downloading and using apps from either iTunes or Android Market (Google play) and is willing to experiment with new methods of managing diabetes information.

Diabetes apps lend themselves to the necessary skills of management which include:

  • Recording blood sugar readings
  • Recording carbohydrates eaten at meals and snacks
  • Looking up food carbohydrate content
  • Calculating insulin doses
  • Recording other information such as exercise or illness
  • Communication with the diabetes care team

The growing number of diabetes apps (free and pay) makes it hard at times to determine which app is best for diabetes care. There is technology, such as IBGstar, that was designed to specifically integrate with Apple devices such as the iPhone or iPad. Other applications, such as Wavesense and Glucose Buddy, work with both Apple and Android devices. Newer apps also include allowing the user to link his or her social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter with the app. A recent entry into diabetes apps designed by a pediatric endocrinologist, Endogoddess, offers another twist by rewarding care efforts with points.

I believe that technology advances such as diabetes apps and glucose sensors are part of the continuing forward progress in diabetes care. As with all new technology, I strive with families to make the best use of the tools available to improve diabetes care.

As a self-described ‘techie,’ Joel Steelman, M.D., has a keen interest in the wise use of technology to improve medical care. Since 2001, he has helped implement electronic medical recordkeeping in two endocrine practices. He still loves to write, and he is a regular contributor to the Physician Perspective page on the Cook Children’s website.

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