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UIC Researchers Receive Grant to Study Mobile Tech in Diabetes Management

October 11, 2016
by Heather Landi
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University of Illinois at Chicago researchers received a five-year, $4 million federal grant to study how mobile technology can assist patients in adhering to diabetes treatment plans.

The grant is from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

According to a UIC press release, UIC researchers Lisa Sharp, associate professor of pharmacy systems, outcomes and policy, and Ben Gerber, M.D., professor of medicine, will evaluate whether mobile technology such as text messaging and videoconferencing can help patients improve their medication adherence, eat healthier, and become more physically active. The UIC study will specifically focused on helping African American and Hispanic patients adhere to diabetes treatment plans.

Nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes, and 86 million more have prediabetes, costing America $322 billion per year, according to the American Diabetes Association. Many African Americans and Latinos are at high risk for complications from the disease—amputations, end-stage kidney disease and severe retinopathy that can lead to blindness—because they do not properly manage their health, according to the UIC press release.

As part of the study, text messages will remind patients to take their medications and provide support and encouragement. Health coaches will use tablet computers to videoconference with pharmacists from their patients’ homes.

“Videoconferencing will reduce the need for in-person visits with a pharmacist, as many low-income patients cannot physically make it to their appointments,” Gerber said in a statement. Gerber has done earlier studies on medication adherence and technology among Latinos. “Also, our prior work suggests that text messaging is a desirable means of communication and may facilitate more frequent contact with patients.”

“We’re trying to learn who this model works for, and then we can use resources that make the most sense that will help them,” Sharp said. “We’re trying to empower the patient to pay more attention to their health.”

The study will incorporate both high tech and high touch components. In addition to the mobile technology, health coaches and clinical pharmacists will be assigned to the 220 enrolled patients from the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System to help them with managing their disease. Pharmacists will focus on medication compliance, while the health coaches will try to identify psychosocial and environmental challenges to adherence.

“One of the problems in this patient population is their blood glucose decreases, but they can’t keep it there,” Sharp said in a statement. “Life happens to them. They may lose loved ones, or experience financial stress. There are all sorts of challenges for people with limited resources living in inner cities.”

Researchers content that patients may be socially isolated and not have anyone nearby to help them inject insulin. Or their eyesight may be limited, making it difficult to adhere to their medication regimen. The health workers will help patients identify people in their daily lives who can help them manage their disease.

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