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Study: Self-Managed Online Interventions Provide Limited Support for Diabetes

March 29, 2013
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Self-management interventions delivered by computers and mobile phones currently provide limited benefits for people with diabetes, according to a systematic review published in The Cochrane Library. Although computer and mobile phone-based self-management programs had small positive effects on blood sugar levels, these effects seemed to be short-lived.

The researchers reviewed data from 16 trials involving a total of 3,578 people with type 2 diabetes, who used computers or mobile phones as part of diabetes self-management interventions for between one and 12 months. Overall, these interventions appeared to be safe but had only limited positive effects. There were small benefits for controlling blood sugar levels, with slightly greater benefits for those whose self-care programs were delivered by mobile phones. However, the benefits waned after six months and there was no evidence that these interventions helped to improve depression, quality of life or weight in people with type 2 diabetes.

“Our review shows that although popular, computer-based diabetes self-management interventions currently have limited evidence supporting their use,” lead researcher, Kingshuk Pal of the Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health at University College London (UCL), said in a statement. “There are also few studies looking at cost-effectiveness or long-term impact on patient health.”

347 million adults worldwide live with diabetes and are at higher risk of heart disease and serious complications such as heart attacks and stroke because of their condition. There is some evidence to suggest that providing chronically ill patients with the skills to manage their own disease can help them to reduce their risk of further complications. Computers and smartphones offer the potential to improve self-care for diabetes through patient-tailored support and education, and to reduce the costs to health care systems. However, it is not clear whether these programs actually work, what the important components are and if there are any important adverse effects.

The authors saw some evidence of computer-based interventions helping to improve knowledge and understanding of diabetes, but this did not seem to translate into behaviors that could improve health, such as changes in diet and exercise.

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