It’s hard to overestimate the burden that diabetes puts on the American health care system. According to the most recent available data from the American Diabetes Association, annual spending on patients with the disease (and its numerous co-morbid conditions) reaches approximately $245 billion, including a staggering $176 billion in medical costs. Further, it’s been estimated that more than 29 million Americans have diabetes, and it is currently the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. All of this makes investment in prevention a very worthwhile expenditure–and now, with the aid of mobile apps and other new technologies, that task may have gotten a good deal easier. As Fierce Healthcare first reported, two new studies highlight the positive impacts that telemedicine and e-health interventions can have for patients with diabetes, and those at risk of developing it.
In a study to be published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), researchers from the University of Michigan and UCLA performed a meta-analysis of existing studies that examined “technology-mediated interventions” among patients identified as having a high risk of developing diabetes. These interventions focused on “enabling behavioral changes through goal setting, self-monitoring, and logging of diet and physical activity.” Ultimately, most patients saw significant weight loss and improved glycemic control. A study slated for publication in JAMA Internal Medicine saw similarly positive results among patients with diabetes in the Los Angeles County health care system, which piloted the use of telemedicine in primary care settings to screen for diabetic retinopathy, which can be a long and costly process. Their results showed reduced need for visits to specialty providers and decreased wait times for screenings.
Increased implementation of telemedicine for diabetes patients, the authors of both studies note, comes with challenges. Acknowledging the difficulties of building a telemedicine network anywhere, the authors of the Los Angeles County study comment that “the barriers may be greater in underresourced safety net or public health systems.” The Michigan and UCLA researchers, for their part, point to the varied quality of apps and other technologies targeted toward diabetes patients, as not all are based on proven clinical models. Still, both studies express optimism about the future of telemedicine among this challenging population: “These interventions will play an important role in the dissemination of diabetes prevention programs,” conclude the authors of the JMIR study.